Cap Class: Should the Steelers Keep Vance McDonald?

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By G.Stryker

Cap Class is a series where I break down the cap to find the amounts associated with the roster, dead money, or future cost of players. Dollar amounts and cap costs may not be exciting, but they can be interesting when you look inside the numbers. I will place explanations inside of {braces}, so if you know how those numbers are found, you can skip over them. So grab your pencils and calculators, and let’s do some math!

2020 is an option year for tight end, Vance McDonald. If kept on the roster this year, Vance would cost {$5.5M in salary + $760K roster bonus + $150k workout bonus + $725.5K prorated signing bonus = $7.1275M cap hit}. If Vance is let go this year, the team would have to account for the final two years of his prorated signing bonus this year (because that is the way the CBA is currently structured, there is no post June 1 designations, so there is no ability to split the cap hit over two years. The entire cap hit must be paid this year). Vance’s prorated signing bonus is $725.5K, times 2 would be $1.455M, which would also equal his dead cap hit. So subtract his prorated signing bonus from his cap number and you get the cap savings {$7.1275M – $1.455M = $5.6725M}.

So now the question becomes: Is Vance McDonald worth the cap hit of $7.1275M to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020, or would the $5.6725M cap savings be better suited elsewhere?

Argument 1) Not taking the option on Vance McDonald: So the team has decided to part ways with Vance McDonald. Now they have an extra $5.67M to spend. The only problem now is, the team no longer has a starting, playmaking tight end. If you wanted a free agent TE with McDonald’s skill set, you’d be spending more than the $5.67M in cap space that you got for letting him go. Instead, the Steelers would have to find a blocking TE in free agency who has some catching ability, yet will still cost between $4-5M a season to sign. Now that cap savings doesn’t translate to much after signing another TE in FA since it will be between $1.5M and $500K. The Steelers could go the cheap route by promoting Gentry, Radar, and Scotland-Williamson, while also adding another TE in the NFL Draft. That is the only way the Steelers would be able to utilize the $5M+ cap savings, but the productivity at the tight end position would probably diminish.

Argument 2) Keeping Vance McDonald: Vance is on the team for 2020 — now we have to justify his value. I will argue that there is no free agent TE available that will have the skill set that Vance has, at his current price point. Is Vance a $7M TE? He’s close to it, but he’s definitely better than any $5M TE the Steelers would pick up this season, and that is the number the Steelers would be looking at to replace him. Now Vance’s productivity last year was paltry. He had 38 catches for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns with his lowest yards per catch season of his career at 7.3. This is the first time in his career he was under double digits in yards per catch. Now, we can argue that his productivity lagged because he didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger throwing the football last year. The year prior, when Big Ben was his QB, Vance had career highs in receptions (50), yardage (610) and TD’s (4).  If Ben makes it back next year, there is no reason to believe that Vance can’t be productive.  

Analysis: Now we have to weigh Vance’s projected productivity vs his cap savings, and there is little doubt in my opinion, that he will be productive with Ben throwing him the football. The final point we have to weigh is his durability. Most Steeler fans would question Vance’s durability, stating he is an injury prone tight end. In his first year, I’d agree with you since he managed only seven starts while missing six games, but after 2017, he’s been quite dependable. In 2018, the only game he missed was the first game of the season in Week 1. Last year, he was listed with three injuries (back, shoulder, and concussion). He missed only two games, one with his shoulder, and one with a concussion. He has played through many minor injuries in the past two years while missing just three games total. It is true that he has never played all 16 games in a season yet, but I still fail to see that he can’t be a reliable player. Age may be a factor as Vance will be 30 this year, but we aren’t talking about a new contract, we’re talking about his last year option. In my opinion, I am starting to lean that his value to the team is more important to the offensive productivity than his value gained by losing him to free agency.  


What do you think?  Would you keep Vance McDonald or let him go?  Let us know in the comments below.


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  1. BLK305

    February 14, 2020 at 9:57 am

    As you said, with Ben he is an asset, lets hope Ben comes back or we just might regret it. Im also thinking that if he is really that talented shouldnt he be recognized by any QB in the game. Why is Ben the only one using his skill set. That says a lot about what the coaching staff see’s as his value to a win. I’m leaning more toward cut the loose now, use the money for the draft, and expect the other players to collectively pick up the slack.

    • G Stryker

      February 28, 2020 at 1:36 pm

      Perhaps a focus on the run game when the backups were starting? Ben is a special QB, and Ben’s strength is using everyone on the field. Newer QBs are just learning how to run an offense. Ben is leagues ahead of everyone else on this roster.

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