With the 2017 NFL Season kicking off a week from this upcoming Thursday, teams are beginning to sort out their rosters in preparation for final cuts. Due to a recent rule change taking effect this year, the official 53 man rosters do not have to be set until after the final preseason game. As a result, next week’s waiver wire could potentially have over 1,000 players to sort through in a span of just 24 hours. This chaotic player carousel might hurt a team’s chances at filling out any weaknesses on their roster with any released players.
To avoid any risks of missing out on that special last-minute pickup, a trade can be carried out for a player that might have been cut anyway. That’s exactly what took place today when the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to acquire TE Vance McDonald. For compensation, the Steelers swapped a 2018 4th round draft pick for the 49ers’ 2018 5th round pick. At first glance, the deal makes absolute sense for both parties involved, but lets see if we can dive any further to uncover any winners or losers…
It wasn’t too long ago when the TE position was an unquestioned strength for the Steelers. From 2005 to 2015, fan favorite and first round selection Heath Miller secured the starting TE job and was a consistent target for franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Since Miller’s quiet retirement in February 2016, the Steelers have been unable to fill his big shoes. Free agent acquisition Ladarius Green was signed to a 4 year 20 million dollar deal last offseason as a potential replacement, but he is no longer with the team. Injuries and a lack of chemistry with the offense hindered Green’s ability to be “the man”. Current starter Jesse James has shown flashes of potential since the Steelers selected him in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but is he the next Heath Miller? Probably not.
So what does a team with Super Bowl aspirations do to patch up its biggest weakness on a loaded offense? How about take a flyer on a former 2nd round pick whose still only 27 years of age. McDonald’s contract situation isn’t an ideal one to pick up, but there is only a 2.85 million dollar salary cap hit for this season. If things don’t work out in the end, the Steelers can always cut McDonald. Heck, if they don’t like him in practice this week he could be gone before week 1! Regardless, the Steelers felt their TE position needed a boost, so they made a calculated risk.
San Francisco 49ers:
A lot of changes have been made this offseason for the 49ers, and this move is no different. New GM John Lynch is building the 49ers from the ground up, and that all starts with cutting pieces from the old regime. While TE Vance McDonald fell into that expendable category, he didn’t exactly leave empty-handed. Before Lynch was hired to rebuild the organization, McDonald signed a 3-year contract extension for just under 20 million dollars. Financially speaking, this wasn’t the best move on San Francisco’s part, but it hardly put a dent into the team’s cap space. Along with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, the 49ers have a TON of cap room to work with. No offense to the other two teams, but it’s not exactly a great group to be in. What’s the use of cap space if you can’t spend it on good players? New head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are in SF to change all of that.
Giving the boot to TE Vance McDonald and his contract became a lot easier when the team drafted George Kittle in the 5th round of this year’s draft. With Garrett Celek as a serviceable backup, the team’s future seems to be set at the position for now. From the beginning, McDonald did not fit with the changing of the guard, making the trade today a likely conclusion. Unfortunately, the 49ers did not get all of what they wanted out of their 2nd round investment. Fans of the team might think the deal with the Steelers is a bit cheap, but that is usually the case when moving a player heading towards a release. Turning a 5th round pick into a 4th rounder should at the very least give GM John Lynch and company a chance to make a splash play in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Both teams made the right moves in helping their franchises moving forward. The Steelers added a potential weapon on offense as they pursue their 7th Lombardi Trophy. The 49ers continued their much-needed rebuild by discarding an unwanted contract and earning draft compensation. Until we know what comes of that 2018 4th round selection, or what comes of McDonald playing for the Steelers if at all, there is no clear winner or loser of this trade as of now. However, I will give a slight edge to the Steelers, as they will leave today with a much better TE unit.