While the previous two entries are scheduled to be free agents next offseason, Vance McDonald will still have one more year on his contract. Like this year, the contract year is optional, meaning the Steelers can opt to not pick it up and make McDonald a free agent. Due to the minimal depth at the position, they were forced to pick it up this year. Next year will be a different story.
After having a strong year in 2018, McDonald regressed due to injuries and bad QB play last year. While he will almost certainly rebound, his age and injury history limits his upside. As well, with the addition of Eric Ebron, the Steelers will have a capable TE on the roster going into next year if they did opt out of McDonald’s contract. This seems like a “two dogs, one bone” type competition at TE, as the Steelers will likely keep either McDonald or Ebron past this year.
While McDonald does his best work in rotation (2018 he split snaps with Jesse James which preserved his help), he will have to show he is better than the younger and more athletic Ebron. If he doesn’t, the team can save over 5 million in the cap by opting out of his contract. While McDonald will forever be immortalized due to his monstrous stiff arm, it may not be enough to see his 2021 season be played with the Steelers.