The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Tight end Vance McDonald will be a salary cap casualty.
Explanation: This was supposed to be the breakout season for Vance McDonald. Of course, this was supposed to be the season for many things, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, for the Steelers this year. Many of those plans were derailed due to injury. With an underwhelming season and an impending cap crunch, it’s fair to wonder if McDonald can get pinched, even without much of any tight end depth.
The priority this offseason is retaining Bud Dupree, and to do that, cuts need to be made. Vance McDonald had a nice 2018 season for himself, but he didn’t look like that same player this year, and it’s hard to imagine Ben Roethlisberger coming back will change that. He hardly broke a tackle this year, and his blocking wasn’t necessarily excellent.
It would be cheaper to release him, re-sign Nick Vannett, hope Zach Gentry continues to develop, and use a day-two pick on a tight end. Of course, they also have the tackle-eligible, which they used very heavily this year. They don’t need McDonald, especially if he’s going to look like the McDonald of 2019. The Steelers could clear about $5 million in cap space by releasing him.
Yes, it’s true that McDonald had a very disappointing season, finishing the year with just 38 catches for a mere 273 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged a pathetic 7.2 yards per reception. But this was the byproduct of having awful quarterback play. He had very few opportunities to even run in open space, or create space of his own.
And the simple fact is they don’t have anybody else. How cheaply can they even sign Vannett for, considering what guys like Jesse James and Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah got just last offseason? They might not even save much money by releasing McDonald and retaining Vannett, so it would hardly be worth it. Roethlisberger will make a world of difference for McDonald and the offense in 2020. He still has Pro Bowl-level talent.