Kevin Colbert’s Best Trades: Vance McDonald

Wrapping up our series looking at Kevin Colbert’s best/worst trades with the Vance McDonald deal. With Heath Miller retiring prior to the 2017 season, Pittsburgh had a need at tight end. For the price of a 2018 fourth-round pick, the Steelers acquired McDonald and a 2018 fifth-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers.

McDonald’s first season in Pittsburgh wasn’t anything special, as he had just 14 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown. Jesse James was the primary starter at tight end, and Pittsburgh went 13-3 before losing in the divisional round to the Jacksonville Jaguars. McDonald got more of an opportunity in 2018, as he started 14 games, and he cashed in with 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns in what would be his best year as a member of the Steelers. All told, he managed 117 receptions for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns in his Steelers career. He was a solid starter for a few seasons, and the price that Pittsburgh paid to acquire him was low. 

Anytime you can get a quality starter at the cost of moving down a round in the middle rounds of the draft, you take it, and that’s what Pittsburgh did here. McDonald was a solid player for a few seasons, was a veteran leader, and ultimately, contributed to the Steelers winning football games. With the fourth-round pick the Steelers gave up, the 49ers selected defensive lineman Kentavius Street. Through three seasons, Street has three career sacks and 42 total tackles. He just signed with the New Orleans Saints this offseason. Pittsburgh ended up with Marcus Allen with their fifth-round pick, who is still with the team and provides depth at both safety and linebacker.

Ultimately, this trade wasn’t all that flashy at the time and it still isn’t. What it is an example of though, is a good, solid football trade. McDonald wasn’t a world-beater, but he was a solid football player and a good representative of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They moved down a round to get a tight end who just went out and did his job when called upon. It’s the sort of trade that good teams make. 

While there were a lot of what I’ll call “nothing” trades in Colbert’s tenure (Lucas Crowley for Dashaun Phillips, anyone?), Colbert ended up on the winning end of trades more often than not. Obviously, there were some misses in there, and if you extend this to look at trades strictly involving draft picks there’s be a few more bad trades, but also a few more good ones. One trade of note I didn’t write about was the Ahkello Witherspoon deal, just because I don’t know if you can judge his one season enough to definitively call it a good trade, although it looks to be trending that way.

In the end, Colbert’s trade record is pretty impressive, and with the NFL becoming more and more trade-friendly, it’ll be fun to watch Omar Khan’s approach to trades in the coming years.

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