Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald is currently scheduled to earn $6.4 million in base salary and bonuses in 2020 if the team picks up his option by March 18. Many, however, don’t believe that McDonald will be part of the 2020 Steelers despite hints last week by general manager Kevin Colbert that he will be. CBS Sports insider Jason La Canfora is one of those people that doesn’t expect McDonald back with the Steelers in 2020 at his current contract numbers.
“No, no, but I’m not sure that he’s replaced by Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry,” La Canfora said Friday of McDonald during an interview on 93.7 The Fan. “I just, you know, there might be a mid-level guy. I don’t know, like an Eric Ebron, or something. I don’t know.”
Tight ends Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year a little less than a full month from now. Even so, it would be a huge shock to see the Steelers land either as not only does the team lack salary cap space, chasing top free agents at any position is something they just don’t do. Hooper and Henry are likely to be highly courted in free agency, assuming they aren’t franchise tagged by their current teams. Henry, by the way, has a high probability of being franchise tagged by the Los Angeles Chargers in the coming weeks.
As for La Canfora mentioning soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Eric Ebron as a potentially free agent target for the Steelers this offseason, he’s also expected to have quite a few suitors and thus it’s very unlikely he lands in Pittsburgh. Pro Football Focus recently speculated that Ebron will ultimately sign with the Chicago Bears during free agency and receive a contract that averages $7.5 million per season over three years and include $14 million guaranteed.
The unrestricted free agent tight end market figures to very thin this offseason and thus it’s hard to imagine the Steelers signing one and that’s even if they decided to move on from McDonald a little less than a month from now. If the Steelers wind up signing any unrestricted free agent tight end this offseason it will likely be Nick Vannett, who they traded for last season. Vannett, however, would have to come very cheap.
Just last week, Colbert dropped a hint that McDonald might be in the team’s 2020 plans.
“I feel optimistic we will have Ben [Roethlisberger] back,” Colbert said about the 2020 season. “I hope the health kicks back in for James Conner, for Vance McDonald, for JuJu Smith-Schuster, but that remains to be seen. But I am more optimistic about 2020.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and McDonald seem to have established a strong relationship with one another since the tight end arrived via a trade in August of 2017. While McDonald hasn’t been the healthiest of players during his NFL career, he’s managed to dress and play in 29 of 32 possible games over the course of the last two seasons. He also caught a career high 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns from Roethlisberger during the 2018 season as well.
We’ll see soon enough if La Canfora and others are right about McDonald not being part of the Steelers 2020 plans. Personally, I think I’ll be a little surprised if McDonald is jettisoned this offseason. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Steelers to part ways with him for a salary cap savings that would amount to a little more than $5 million after roster displacement.