Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers make low-risk move in trade for Vance McDonald

The Pittsburgh Steelers are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to surround quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with as many weapons as possible in the waning years of his NFL career. Add Vance McDonald’s name to the list of pass-catchers Big Ben will throw to in 2017.

The 27-year-old tight end was reportedly traded by the San Francisco 49ers, along with a 2018 fifth-round draft pick, to the Steelers for a fourth-round pick. It isn’t the type of fan-pleasing move that will generate much buzz, especially since the bulk of the team’s problems lie on defense.

However, McDonald can definitely help the team if he can become a consistent presence on offense. The Steelers don’t need him to be the next Heath Miller. They just need him to be more available than Ladarius Green and better than Jesse James and Xavier Grimble.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

McDonald is a legitimately versatile threat at tight end who could thrive with Roethlisberger. Not only is he a decent blocker, but he is also capable of inflicting damage on a defense vertically and across the middle as a receiver. He also has good speed with the ball for a man of his size.

The Steelers haven’t had a consistent playmaker at the tight end position since Miller.

“The guys hadn’t been consistently varsity enough for our comfort,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told ESPN.com. “It’s as black and white as that. They’ve had some moments positively and had some moments negatively. We were in the market for a guy who was NFL capable. McDonald is that. We’re not going to anoint him in any way. We’re going to put him in uniform like the rest of them and continue to allow them to sort themselves out. It’s reasonable to expect the guys that are here to respond positively in the right way to his presence and elevate their play.”

The Steelers didn’t move far down the draft board to acquire another potential playmaker on offense.

It sounds like the low-risk move the team needed. Tomlin has spent all training camp and postseason assessing talent, and he obviously wasn’t comfortable heading into the season with James and Grimble at tight end.

If one flaw has dogged McDonald, it has been dropped passes. It’s something he’ll have to work on. The Steelers are a well-oiled machine on offense, and they have no problem scrapping parts that don’t fit.

Just ask Green.

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