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Steelers Forthcoming Decision On TE Vance McDonald Now Includes New Twist

We are now seven weeks away from the start of the 2020 NFL league year. This also means that the Pittsburgh Steelers now have seven weeks remaining to make a decision on tight end Vance McDonald regarding picking up his option for the 2020 season. The decision, however, now includes an interesting twist thanks in part to some recently gleaned information from Brad Spielberger of Over the Cap concerning a compensatory formula loophole.

I recently wrote about the forthcoming offseason decision the Steelers have regarding McDonald and how it might not be as cut and dry as most think. Spielberger’s recent discovery now adds a very minor twist into that decision. In short, Spielberger recently reported that the option-cut loophole for compensatory free agents has been closed. Because of that, option-cuts are now treated the same as regular cuts for compensatory draft pick formula purposes.

So, what does that recent discovery really mean? In short, other than gaining instant salary cap space by not picking up McDonald’s option for 2020 by March 18, the Steelers have nothing else to gain. Just a few short weeks ago, it was believed by me and other junior capologists that the Steelers could ultimately gain some sort of 2021 compensatory formula value by not picking McDonald’s option and him turning right around and signing with another team during the allotted qualifying time period.

It’s not like McDonald would likely bring the Steelers much in the way of 2021 compensatory draft value, anyway, but it was something else to have kept in mind as part of the upcoming decision related to picking up his 2020 option. Assuming Spielberger is correct, McDonald would bring zero 2021 compensatory draft pick value to the Steelers this offseason should he not have his option picked up and he quickly sign with another team.

Personally, I’m fine with this compensatory draft pick value loophole now being closed because apparently a lot of teams were taking advantage of it by adding meaningless option years into contracts not tied to any date generated bonuses.

So, how big of a development is this regarding McDonald? It’s not really that big at all, quite honesty. After all, the Steelers decision to pick up McDonald’s option for 2020 is and was only going to be motivated by how much and how quickly the team does or doesn’t need the salary cap savings of $5.6725 million prior to his roster displacement. Essentially, a little more than $5 million in salary cap space will be saved by not picking up McDonald’s option for 2020 by March 18. That’s not a lot by most standards, but a big number when it comes to the 2020 cap-crunched Steelers.

While I understand that the Steelers are already very tight up against the salary cap as we sit here in late January and that quite a bit of massaging will need to take place in the next seven weeks to afford a franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree and still be in compliance, parting ways with McDonald prior to the 2020 NFL Draft and free agency taking place might not be the team’s smartest course of action.

If possible, the Steelers need to retain McDonald at least through the draft and maybe even up until the final round of cuts just ahead of the start of the 2020 regular season. Why? Because the Steelers tight end depth chart minus McDonald will be crap and there’s no guarantee the right tight end that will make it look better will be available for selection during the draft. In short, parting ways with McDonald in the next seven weeks to clear a little more than $5 million in salary cap space is foolish.

Remember, the Steelers could still outright terminate the contract of McDonald at any point prior to the start of the 2020 regular season and still recognize the same amount of salary cap savings. The team could also trade McDonald at any point during the offseason and not only get the same amount of salary cap savings, but maybe a late-round future draft pick in addition.

We’ll see in the next seven weeks just how hard-up the Steelers are for a little more than $5 million in salary cap space. As I have cautioned for several weeks now, don’t be surprised if McDonald is still a member of the Steelers seven weeks from now.

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