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’s ability to perform is tied to Ben Roethlisberger being healthy and effective.
Explanation: I don’t think there was a bigger champion for Roethlisberger last year than Vance McDonald, with whom he had become close in his three years in Pittsburgh. He was confident that they would have the talent to win the Super Bowl this year, himself coming off a career season. That all changed when Roethlisberger went down, and McDonald’s usage and effectiveness fell off a cliff in 2019.
Let’s make this very clear. McDonald only saw 55 targets in the passing game all season. He almost caught that number of passes in 2018. He still managed 38 catches, but only got 273 yards out of it, with three touchdowns. Mason Rudolph hit him for two scores in his first career start, and things were looking promising.
Then they kind of shied away from him, or struggled to get the ball to him, or at least struggled to get the ball in his hands with an opportunity to make plays. His 7.2 yards per reception was dreadful, but should we really assume this is who he is now after averaging 12.5 yards per catch over the span of the 2017-118 seasons?
Yes, we can. McDonald didn’t look like the same player from a physical standpoint. His ability to create yards after the catch was nothing in comparison. 7.2 yards per catch is worse than Jesse James territory, and signals an inability to escape the first defender more than once every 10 or so catches.
The oft-injured tight end may not simply be where he needs to be physically to be the sort of contributor that the Steelers were counting on him to be, and that could result in him being a somewhat surprising cap cut this year.
On the other hand, perhaps his bad year can simply be attributed to bad quarterback play. Everybody’s numbers suffered, and the few times they looked for McDonald down the field, they couldn’t get the ball to him. I believe at least a couple of these balls were intercepted.