The Steelers had their share of offensive woes during the 2019 season. Here’s why Vance McDonald’s performance was among the most disappointing.
The Steelers offense fell apart in every way, shape, and form during the 2019 season. Without Ben Roethlisberger leading the charge, the passing game less than threatening and the running game was non-existent. However, Vance McDonald’s season this past year was particularly disappointing.
Pittsburgh traded with San Francisco for the veteran tight end just before the start of the 2017 season. In his first year with the Steelers, McDonald earned 7 starts while managing 188 receiving yards and a touchdown. In 2018, Vance finally broke out at age 28. Despite playing just 51 percent of offensive snaps, McDonald managed 50 catches for 610 yards (12.2 per catch) and 4 touchdowns. He averaged an amazing 7.7 yards after the catch in 2018 and broke 10 tackles on receptions.
After such a fantastic second season in Pittsburgh, fans and analysts had high hopes for McDonald. No longer splitting snaps with Jesse James, many predicted Vance could be among the leading receivers of tight ends in 2019, but McDonald disappointed in a big way.
The 29-year old managed just 273 receiving yards and a dismal 7.2 yards per catch. While his lack of production certainly wasn’t all his fault, McDonald was incredibly inefficient despite his 55 targets last season.
McDonald also graded out horribly as a blocker last season – earning a 44.6 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. His 45.2 overall grade was 67th among NFL tight ends in 2019 and second to last among all qualifying players.
McDonald is due more than $14.2 million over the next two seasons, and after a disaster of a campaign in 2019, Pittsburgh may want to part ways with the soon-to-be 30-year old tight end. Fortunately, the Steelers would save $12 million over the next two seasons by cutting McDonald this offseason.
The bad news is that Pittsburgh is already razor-thin at the position. Nick Vannett, who Pittsburgh traded for during the 2019 season, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and could hit the market if a deal doesn’t get done soon.
Even if they elect to bring Vannett back, the Steelers still need a drastic upgrade at the position. Zach Gentry was added in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but it’s unclear whether or not he will even be able to land a spot on the active roster next season.
Because of this, tight end has often been mocked to the Steelers with their 49th overall pick. The 2020 NFL Draft is deep with day-two tight ends, and this could be the direction Pittsburgh ends up going in April.
As of now, McDonald is still with the team. However, his disappointing 2019 season and his massive cap hit suggests that he may not be with the team much longer. Vance will be remembered for his violent stiff-arm against Chris Conte in 2018, but he may not get the opportunity to make anymore splash plays in Pittsburgh.