Vance McDonald

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert On Contract Status, Ben Roethlisberger

Last summer, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert indicated he did not want to enter into a multi-year extension with the team, as he prefers to take things on a year-to-year basis. Earlier this month, the 63-year-old signed another one-year contract with the club to remain in his general manager post through the 2020 campaign.

But in a meeting with Steelers beat writers today, Colbert indicated he is not thinking about quitting anytime soon. “As long as the Rooneys and the Pittsburgh Steelers want me to be a part of this organization and it’s a good thing for our family, we’ll be here,” Colbert said. “I’m not looking to ever go anywhere else again as long as the Rooneys and the Steelers are interested in me” (Twitter link via Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com).

So while Colbert may prefer the flexibility that his one-year extensions afford him, it sounds as if he will continue to lead the Pittsburgh front office for as long as the team wants him to and for as long as his personal life permits. And for good reason. Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000, was promoted from director of football operations to GM in 2010, and has helped build two Super Bowl-winning teams and 12 playoff squads over the years.

In his conversation, Colbert also discussed the status of QB Ben Roethlisberger. We heard in December that Big Ben is expected to make a full recovery from surgery to reattach three tendons in his right arm, and Colbert said today that he believes Roethlisberger’s rehab is going in the right direction (Twitter link via Pryor). The veteran signal-caller has a checkup in Los Angeles on February 21.

Colbert further indicated that the injuries that plagued JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Vance McDonald last year would not impact their long-term availability (Twitter link via Pryor). And in other Steelers news, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that the Steelers are expected to hire a new WR coach any day now. The team is deciding between Jerricho Cotchery and Bryan McClendon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Updates: McDonald, Smith, Cichy

The Steelers faced the Bengals on Monday night without the services of tight end Vance McDonald, who was ruled inactive due to a shoulder injury. On the plus side – the Steelers have already safeguarded for this with the acquisition of Seahawks TE Nick Vannett and they are not expecting a prolonged absence for McDonald.

Also, as of this writing, the Steelers are handling the Bengals with ease, so they are getting by just fine without McDonald in the interim.

Here’s the latest on some notable injuries around the NFL:

  • Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith received good news after his MRI and a return against the Jets in Week 6 is thought to be possible, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com hears. He’ll miss the club’s next game against the Packers, but it appears that this is not the typical 4-6 week high-ankle sprain – the Cowboys may get Smith back on the field sooner than expected.
  • Colts safety Clayton Geathers suffered a concussion against the Raiders and finds himself in the concussion protocol, according to coach Frank Reich (Twitter link via Mike Wells of ESPN.com). There’s no word on his timetable just yet, but the Colts may need to bolster the position, particularly as Malik Hooker continues to recover from a meniscus injury.
  • Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians says linebacker Jack Cichy “could [miss] 2 to 4 weeks,” though his diagnosis is pending an MRI (Twitter link via the Bucs’ team website). That would be a welcome bit of news for Cichy, whose arm was twisted badly in Sunday’s win over the Rams.

Steelers Notes: McDonald, Moncrief, Grimble

Let’s take a quick look at the latest out of Pittsburgh:

  • The Steelers’ trade for tight end Nick Vannett earlier this week led to some concern over the long-term health of fellow TE Vance McDonald, who is dealing with a shoulder injury. However, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the team is not worried about McDonald’s shoulder and simply wanted to bolster the talent at the tight end position (Twitter link). McDonald is officially listed as doubtful for Pittsburgh’s Monday night matchup against the Bengals.
  • After dropping five passes in the Steelers’ first two games of the season, veteran wideout Donte Moncrief was benched for last week’s loss to San Francisco. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic tweets that Moncrief, who signed a two-year, $9MM pact with Pittsburgh in March, has been officially demoted to the third-string WR unit.
  • Tight end Xavier Grimble was placed on IR earlier this week, and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com says Grimble sustained a torn calf muscle (Twitter link). Grimble played through the pain in San Francisco, but the team has decided to shut him down.
  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent elbow surgery earlier this week and is expected to make a full recovery well before the 2020 regular season gets underway.
  • The Steelers further bolstered their TE corps by signing Alize Mack to the taxi squad.

Steelers To Acquire TE Nick Vannett From Seahawks

Vance McDonald‘s injury has prompted the Steelers to act quickly. Pittsburgh has agreed to acquire tight end Nick Vannett from Seattle, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The Steelers will send a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Seahawks for Vannett, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. That pick came from Jacksonville in this month’s Joshua Dobbs trade, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times tweets, so the Steelers effectively traded Dobbs for Vannett.

This marks the second straight week the Steelers have made a trade, this lower-profile move coming after Pittsburgh sent its 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick.

A former third-round pick out of Ohio State, Vannett is in a contract year. He caught 29 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns with Seattle in 2018, which was by far his most productive statistical year. Vannett, 26, has four catches for 38 yards this season. He will join a Steelers roster that houses McDonald, blocking tight end Xavier Grimble and rookie fifth-round pick Zach Gentry.

McDonald is battling a sprained shoulder, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. He was spotted with the shoulder in a sling Tuesday, though RapSheet adds this is not expected to sideline Pittsburgh’s starter for long. But it’s clear the Steelers are serious about having an experienced tight end to pair with Grimble, and thus adding more help for Mason Rudolph, while McDonald is out.

Interestingly, this leaves the Seahawks with one tight end on their active roster, Will Dissly. While the second-year player has flashed in limited work, he missed 12 games as a rookie due to a severe knee injury. Seattle will certainly address this new roster need in the coming days.

The Steelers have now dealt their 2020 first-, third- and fifth-round picks, while the Seahawks have extra ’20 selections in the second and fifth rounds.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Bengals, Steelers

David Njoku currently resides on the Browns‘ IR list, but for the time being, the third-year tight end has a chance to return in 2019. Njoku has opted not to have surgery on his broken wrist, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The earliest Njoku could return would be for the Browns’ Week 12 game against the Dolphins. Cleveland has 2019 additions Demetrius Harris and Ricky Seals-Jones in place atop its tight end depth chart. The Browns must decide on Njoku’s fifth-year option by May of 2020.

Here is the latest out of Cleveland, along with other AFC North cities:

  • The Browns’ defense is facing more pressing matters. Both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams pulled hamstrings during practice Thursday, per Cabot. They missed the Rams game. Interestingly, reserve safety Sheldrick Redwine pulled a hamstring that day as well. The Browns played without their four secondary starters — Ward, Williams, Damarious Randall (concussion) and Morgan Burnett (quadriceps). However, Cabot adds that Randall is out of concussion protocol. Burnett was questionable last week. Hamstring injuries are obviously tricky for skill players and those charged with covering them, but Cleveland’s safeties seem in line to return for Week 4 against the Ravens.
  • While no one obviously expected Shaquil Barrett‘s virtuoso start, only two teams even submitted contract offers this offseason. In addition to the Bucs’ one-year, $4MM deal, the Bengals also offered Barrett a contract, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com notes. Barrett visited the Bengals but did not meet with the Bucs before his agreement. A four-year backup in Denver, Barrett sought a starting role in free agency. He’s found one, and his eight sacks through three games match an NFL record. It’s early, but the former UDFA who began his career at a now-defunct Division II program is putting himself in position for a major payday — either via Bucs extension or as a 2020 free agent.
  • The Bengals worked out some defensive backs on Tuesday. Cornerbacks Greg Mabin, Picasso Nelson and Deatrick Nichols joined corner/safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun in auditioning for the team, per the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson (on Twitter).
  • The Steelers auditioned tight end Alize Mack, according to Howard Balzer of BalzerFootball.com (on Twitter). Vance McDonald was present Tuesday with his arm in a sling, pointing to Pittsburgh suddenly needing help at this position.

Injury Notes: Berry, Giants, Titans, Falcons

Some teams will be opening their seasons without key defenders. Here’s the latest from the Week 1 injury front:

  • The nagging heel issue Eric Berry‘s been dealing with will likely keep him out of Week 1. Andy Reid (via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, on Twitter) does not expect his All-Pro safety to be available when the Chiefs play arguably their toughest AFC West game of the season — a road tilt against the Chargers. Berry’s been held out of practice this week. He missed the Chiefs’ final 15 games of last season with an Achilles tear, his second severe NFL injury. Berry’s right heel’s plagued him in recent weeks, and was also an issue in Kansas City’s 2017 training camp; the ninth-year safety tore his left Achilles’ tendon in Week 1 of last season. He hasn’t practice since August 11. Eric Murray and the recently reacquired Ron Parker are K.C.’s likely safety starters, per Teicher.
  • Suffering a high ankle sprain in practice late last month, Olivier Vernon will not be available for the Giants on Sunday. Vernon will miss New York’s Week 1 game against Jacksonville, Pat Shurmur said (via SNY.tv’s Ralph Vacchiano). This will pose a problem for the Giants’ pass rush, which is now without Jason Pierre-Paul. This could push rookie Lorenzo Carter into Big Blue’s lineup Sunday, per Matt Lombardo of NJ.com, who adds the Georgia-developed edge defender may play plenty regardless of his first-string status.
  • The Titans will be missing some key players but may also have one back sooner than expected. Derrick Morgan‘s meniscus issue hasn’t stopped him from practicing this week, and the ninth-year edge player practiced fully on Thursday to put him in line to start Sunday. However, the Titans will begin their season without Jack Conklin, Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry, Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com tweets. Evans and Landry were Tennessee’s top two 2018 draft picks.
  • Keanu Neal‘s Week 1 injury (an ACL tear) proved to be the biggest health news thus far on Friday, and the Falcons may not seek an outside replacement. Damontae Kazee is likely the next man up for the Falcons, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets, rather than Atlanta going after former Dan Quinn charge Earl Thomas or UFA Eric Reid.
  • Joey Bosa may miss Week 1 as well, and the Chargers‘ dynamic pass rusher was spotted in a walking boot on Friday, Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Bosa will be out for Sunday’s game, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Bosa missed the preseason with a foot injury, but Wang notes (on Twitter) that ailment healed and that the third-year defensive end is week-to-week because of a different malady on that same foot. While the Bolts have maybe the NFL’s best edge-rushing tandem in Bosa and Melvin Ingram, they aren’t especially deep at that position.
  • Jesse James will start at tight end for the Steelers on Sunday against the Browns. Vance McDonald will miss Pittsburgh’s opener, per Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews (Twitter link). A foot injury shelved McDonald during the preseason, halting the tight end’s offseason momentum as he prepares for his second Steelers season.

Steelers Restructure Vance McDonald’s Deal

A franchise big on reworking contracts made another cap space-clearing move on Tuesday. The Steelers adjusted Vance McDonald‘s deal, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

The Steelers tight end agreed to convert $3MM of his base salary into a signing bonus, Schefter reports. This move will free up more than $2MM in cap room. The Steelers came into Tuesday with $3.6MM in cap space — the second-lowest total in the league — and frequently utilize this tactic.

Both Vince Williams and Chris Boswell agreed to extensions last week, and Le’Veon Bell is attached to a $14.5MM salary this season. The Steelers restructured Stephon Tuitt and David DeCastro‘s deals earlier this year. They’ve been big on base-to-bonus conversions in recent years, with VP of football and business administration Omar Khan convincing ownership this strategy would benefit the team as the salary cap continues to rise by approximately $10MM annually.

McDonald is attached to a five-year, $32.5MM extension he signed with the 49ers in late 2016. The new San Francisco regime traded the tight end to Pittsburgh last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

49ers Trade TE Vance McDonald To Steelers

The 49ers have traded tight end Vance McDonald to the Steelers, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. San Francisco receives a 2018 fourth-round pick in the swap while the Steelers get a fifth-round choice back in return.Vance McDonald (Vertical)

McDonald was projected to be the Niners’ starter at tight end this year. Now, they’ll turn to fifth-round rookie George Kittle and veterans Garrett Celek and Logan Paulsen to fill the void.

The Niners signed McDonald to a five-year, $35MM extension in December, but the new regime is not as wild about him as the old one was. New GM John Lynch shopped McDonald during the 2017 draft and was surprisingly candid about it when reports surfaced.

That’s the reality of new regimes coming in, new schemes,” Lynch in April. “That’s not to say he can’t fit into our scheme. Frankly we received some interest from other people, then we did explore some options throughout the league with Vance. And nothing ended up happening, so Vance will come back and have an opportunity to compete.”

The Steelers tried to shake up the tight end position last year by signing Ladarius Green, but things did not go according to plan as he was hampered by injuries and concussions. This year, they’ve were planning to use Jesse James as their primary TE with support from David Johnson and Xavier Grimble. They weren’t completely satisfied with that bunch, however, and they capitalized on an opportunity add another experienced starter.

McDonald finished the 2016 on IR, but he closed out with a career-high 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t league-leading material, but it’s impressive that he was able to get going at all in one of the league’s worst passing attacks. We’re about to find out what McDonald is capable of doing in one of the league’s top aerial offenses.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Vikings, Peterson, 49ers

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is taking some time off as he recovers from eye surgery, but the 60-year-old vowed that he’d be back before long.

“I’ll be back shortly. One eye or two, it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to be back,” Zimmer said (via Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune). “So we can put the retiring thing or whatever to bed quickly.”

The coach revealed that there haven’t been any setbacks since he underwent surgery earlier this month, and he indicated that a recent examination revealed that everything was progressing positvely. Zimmer is ultimately hoping to be back on the sideline in early June for organized team activities.

“I miss being in the meetings with players and I especially miss being out on the field, where I can give immediate feedback on technique and things like that,” he said.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFC…

  • During the NFL Draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called tight end Vance McDonald to update him on potential trade talks. The 26-year-old offensive weapon appreciated his coach’s willingness to be completely transparent about the rumors. “Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team…So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.” McDonald finished last season with career-highs in receiving yards (391) and touchdowns (four).
  • Running back Adrian Peterson is still trying to figure out his fit with the Saints, but his teammates are confident that his presence will result in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. “I think he’s looking forward to that,” said fullback John Kuhn (via Brett Martel of the Associated Press). “Not to put words in his mouth, but everybody in here, especially on the offensive side, realizes that the more weapons that we have, the more explosive we can be.”
  • Cardinals wideout Jaron Brown was expected to play a significant role during the 2016 season, but a torn ACL ended his campaign prematurely. Despite the injury, the organization still decided to sign the former undrafted free agent to an extension. Now, Brown is hoping to repay the Cardinals for their good will gesture. “That meant a lot,” Brown told Kent Somers of AZCentral.com. “You don’t see that too many times, and it kind of shows that faith and loyalty in me to get back to where I was. It was good for both sides.”

49ers Discussed Vance McDonald Trade

After the conclusion of the draft, GM John Lynch confirmed to beat reporters that the 49ers explored options for a Vance McDonald trade. They were unable to find a suitable deal, however. Vance McDonald (Vertical)

That’s the reality of new regimes coming in, new schemes,” Lynch said Saturday (via Cam Inman of the Mercury News). “That’s not to say he can’t fit into our scheme. Frankly we received some interest from other people, then we did explore some options throughout the league with Vance. And nothing ended up happening, so Vance will come back and have an opportunity to compete.”

Lynch went on to say the 49ers will welcome back McDonald “with open arms.” Coach Kyle Shanahan added that “we want Vance here.” The Niners drafted tight end George Kittle in Saturday’s fifth round, but the GM says that’s not an indication that McDonald is being shipped out. For now, it sounds like McDonald is staying, but one has to wonder if he’ll remain on the block.

Just months ago, McDonald signed a five-year, $35MM extension. Three days after signing, he suffered a season-ending injury and was placed on IR. The 26-year-old (27 in June) had 24 catches and 391 yards in eleven games last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.