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: Even with the addition of Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald will see the most snaps at the tight end position.
Explanation: Though the Steelers brought in Eric Ebron on a two-year, $12 million contract, his deal doesn’t exactly reflect a hierarchical rearrangement in the positional payscale, because McDonald’s contract isn’t far from that. He is entering his fourth season with the team and coming off a career-high in snaps in 2019, despite missing time due to injury.
Considering the fact that Ebron has as much of an injury history as McDonald, there isn’t really much reason to give the newcomer the edge in terms of health-related playing time lost. While he did miss six games in his first year in Pittsburgh, he has only missed three over the past two years, and that is not a number that is wildly out of proportion for starting tight ends, who tend to get banged up.
Despite missing two games and parts of others in 2019, McDonald still logged almost 700 snaps, 120 more snaps than he played the year before, and over 200 more than in any other year. Ebron once played over 700 snaps, but that was back in 2016, and accounted for a smaller total percentage of the offensive snaps than McDonald’s 2019 snap count.
Of course, the biggest difference will be the fact that McDonald will be on the field on running plays to block. The Steelers know Ebron is a receiving tight end, and they are not going to use him to block very much.
While it’s true that Ebron will probably not be featured a lot in a blocking capacity, the reality is that the Steelers often don’t necessarily have McDonald on the field when you think they might as well. With the signing of Derek Watt, for example, we could see more 21 personnel packages with a tackle-eligible as the tight end.
And with the team talking up Ebron as a receiving threat, it stands to reason that we will also see them using him at times as the featured tight end in passing situations—which is most of the time. Aside from that, there is the obvious possibility that McDonald’s health will keep him off the field more than intended.