Six months ago, Vance McDonald knew 2020 would be his last in the NFL. But he waited until after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended to tell anyone. And the first person he told? His quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
Speaking with reporters Friday announcing his retirement, McDonald recounted telling Roethlisberger the news. Here’s the quote from WPXI’s Jenna Harner.
“One of those very emotional moments where you can barely remember what happened. Super sad, embraced in a very manly way, hugged in the middle of the locker room. He was crying, I had tears on my face.”
McDonald on telling Ben Roethlisberger he was retiring
— Jenna Harner (@JennaHarner11) January 22, 2021
Roethlisberger and McDonald were close on and off the field. Off it, they did community work together, stepping up to help the city during these difficult, COVID times. In June, the two helped package food and supplies for families in need.
We've teamed up with local partners to bring Trucks of Hope to the Pittsburgh area!@_BigBen7, @VMcDonald89 & both of their families spent time this afternoon packaging up food and preparing it for distribution to families in need!
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 24, 2020
Offensive line aside, McDonald was one of the longest tenured Steelers Roethlisberger played with last season, tying JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, all of whom joined the team in 2017 (McDonald technically joined last via training camp trade).
McDonald’s most productive season came in 2018, registering 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. Best known for his wicked stiff arm of Tampa Bay’s Chris Conte, he was difficult for any defense to tackle that season, a wrecking ball that required multiple players to take him down.
Trading for Vance McDonald one of Kevin Colbert's underrated moves of the last decade. Gave up little to get him. Got a lot. McDonald was a good blocker, great teammate/community member, and literally no one could tackle him in 2018. Wishing him well in retirement. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/EMPHagZn0w
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 22, 2021
Since then, his play had fallen off. The injury-marred 2019 to both him and Roethlisberger. McDonald added weight to primarily become a blocker in 2020, taking on a secondary role behind Eric Ebron. That was reflected in his production, catching just ten passes the entire season. Half of them came in the Week 17 finale.
The writing was on the wall for McDonald. He played through injury and it was clear, especially in 2019, his body was beginning to break down. Had he not retired, it was almost certain the Steelers were going to cut him and save $5.2 million before roster displacement. Getting to retire allowed McDonald to go out on his terms, say goodbye to the game, and say goodbye to his quarterback.