2021 Early Offseason Series: Keep Or Cut? – TE Vance McDonald

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have quite a few big decisions to make in the early portion of their 2021 offseason and most definitely ahead of the start of the new league year on March 17. Several of those decisions the team has forthcoming will revolve around whether or not contracts of certain players need to be terminated prior to the start of the new league year in March. In this short series that will run the next few weeks, we’ll have a look at the Steelers players currently under contract for at least the 2021 season that plausible candidates to be early offseason roster casualties.

First up in this Keep or Cut series is Steelers tight end Vance McDonald.

Player: TE Vance McDonald
2021 Total Scheduled Earnings: $5,200,000
2021 Total Scheduled Cap Charge: $7,927,500
2021 Total Potential Pre-Displacement Cap Savings: $5,200,000
2020 Regular Season Snaps Played: 484 Offense; 70 Special Teams
2020 Regular Season Stats: 20 targets, 15 receptions, 99 yards, 0 touchdowns

Reasons To Cut: I addition to the obvious of saving $5.2 million against the team’s salary cap, which is a big number in the grand scheme of things considering the Steelers offseason outlook in that department, McDonald’s production fell way off in 2020. Not only did McDonald miss two games in 2020 due to him being on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list, but he also only caught 15 passes for 99 yards and no touchdowns in his eight NFL season. McDonald played just 484 total offensive snaps in the 2020 regular season and just 70 more in total on special teams. McDonald is also no longer the pass and run blocker he was in 2017 and 2018 as his last two seasons have been very underwhelming in those two departments. McDonald will also turn 31 years of age in June and the Steelers really need to start getting younger at the position. McDonald’s missed-game history is also very alarming.

Reasons To Keep: For starters, the Steelers don’t have much of a tight end depth chart entering the offseason. Besides McDonald at the tight end position, the team has Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader under contract for 2021. Gentry has played very little in his two seasons in the NFL and is coming off a serious knee injury in 2020 that required surgery to boot. As for Rader, while he looked okay as a blocker in limited playing time late in the 2020 when elevated from the team’s practice squad, like Gentry, he’s still very green. Rader is also more of a blocking tight end than he is a receiving one while Gentry is the opposite. As the Steelers enter the offseason, McDonald is perhaps the Steelers most well-rounded tight end. He’s also great team leader and has been around long enough to understand the Steelers way and organization’s culture.

Dave’s Recommendation: The Steelers salary cap situation will be a tough road for the team to navigate these next several weeks and with that, the organization sure could use the $5.2 million in immediate relief prior to top-51 roster displacement that the cutting of McDonald would provide. Contrary to recent media reports, McDonald’s contract no longer includes a team option that must be exercised by the middle of March as that went away as part of his 2019 restructure. In short, McDonald must have his contract terminated if the Steelers want to have the cap savings. The only other argument that can be made for keeping McDonald throughout the summer would involve the veteran tight end taking a pay cut down to the minimum. Such a pay cut, however, would still result in McDonald earning $1.075 million in 2020. That large decrease would at least give the Steelers roster depth at the tight end position throughout the summer and clear just over $4 million in 2021 salary cap space in the process. In summation, McDonald needs to be cut before March 17 if not interested in talking a huge cut in pay down to the minimum. If he takes a cut in pay, he still should not be guaranteed a 2021 roster spot.

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