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2021 Offseason Questions: Would McDonald Have Been Released If He Didn’t Retire?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Would Vance McDonald have been released had he not chosen to retire?

While he did not inform anybody until after the season was over that he was retiring, Vance McDonald told reporters last week that he knew long before the year began that this would be his last, and that he would be moving on to his life’s work after making millions in the NFL.

The reality is, however, that the decision may not have been his if he had chosen to continue to play, at least as far as his employment in Pittsburgh goes. Due more than $5 million in 2021, the Steelers may well have opted to waive him as a salary cap casualty.

With reports mounting that the salary cap may fall below $190 million, Pittsburgh is going to have its work cut out for itself just to get cap-compliant, and the truth is that McDonald was going to be at risk of being released anyway, especially after investing in Eric Ebron the year before.

Still, he was an important part of the team’s nucleus in ways that the fans don’t see, one of the most well-respected people in the locker room and somebody who prided himself in doing his job. Teams need employees like him. It’s possible that they could have at least sought to work out some other kind of arrangement.

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