The Steelers have a big decision to make when it comes to Vance McDonald this offseason. Here’s why cutting him and signing Hunter Henry actually makes a lot of sense.
The Steelers are currently in a very bad way at the tight end position. Pittsburgh traded with Seattle for Nick Vannett early in the season last year, but Vannett is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and it’s possible the Steelers could lose him.
At the same time, the future for Vance McDonald may be as unclear to him as it is to us. Though he was excellent in 2018 with Ben Roethlisberger, Vance took a big step back last season – earning just 273 receiving yards on a career-low 7.2 yards per reception.
Entering his 8th season and turning 30 years old this offseason, McDonald is still due a more than $14.2 million over the next two seasons. The Steelers can get out of his contract with little dead money and explore options elsewhere.
Hunter Henry is a player that many expect will hit the open market this offseason, and the Steelers could be an excellent landing spot for him. If Pittsburgh chooses to cut McDonald, here’s why Henry would make a ton of sense:
Henry is a young, established tight end
Moreso than almost any other position, tight ends require a massive learning curve when entering the NFL. Receivers have to worry about running routes, and offensive lineman has to worry about footwork and blocking technique. Tight ends have to do both.
Fortunately, Henry is already a young, proven commodity. Henry is just 25 years old but has already established himself as a solid starting tight end. He earned 652 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019 and has averaged 12.6 yards per reception over his first four years. Drafting a tight end could eventually do the job, but with an aging Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers don’t have that kind of time. Henry could give the Steelers a legitimate tight end during a closing Super Bowl window.
Henry has been the better player
Not to knock Vance McDonald at all, but at this point in their careers, Henry is clearly the better player. Henry graded out as the 12th best tight end in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus, above players like Zach Ertz, Haden Hurst, and Eric Ebron.
On the other hand, McDonald was ranked at the 66th of 67 qualifying tight ends in 2019. If you go back and study the season he had, there wasn’t much to like about his performance. At 25, Henry has already had arguably 3 of his 4 seasons that were better than any season Vance has had. The Steelers would not only be getting younger, but they would also be getting better at tight end.
Henry would be similar in price to McDonald
Obviously, the Steelers wouldn’t even be able to consider this as an option if the number were too far off. Pittsburgh is 30th in the league in available cap space, and they still need to try to get a few deals done with their own players.
Fortunately, however, Henry is only projected to make $1.8 million more than McDonald per season on his next contract. McDonald is currently set to make more than $7.1 million in both 2020 and 2021, but the Steelers can get out of his deal with limited dead money. According to Spotrac.com, Henry is only projected to make $8.9 million per year on his second contract. If that is the case, a deal with Henry is certainly possible.
The Steelers have a lot of areas they need to find answers for in a closing Super Bowl window. Adding a player like Hunter Henry would not only give Pittsburgh an upgrade tight end, it will finally give them some much-needed security at the position they haven’t had since Heath Miller retired.