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Why fans should be cautiously optimistic about Vance McDonald

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/25/2018 - 8:55am

If 2018 really is a breakout season for Vance McDonald, the Steelers long search for a freakishly athletic tight end may finally be over.

It seems the Steelers have been searching for one since about six seconds after Rob Gronkowski burst onto the scene with three touchdowns in a Sunday night loss to the Patriots at Heinz Field way back in 2010.

What has Pittsburgh been searching for, you ask?

That athletically freakish tight end with the kind of size that makes it look ludicrous to match him up with a defensive back, along with the type of speed that makes it look equally foolish to task a linebacker to do the same.

I believe the Steelers’ experiment to find their own freakish tight end began in 2011 with the signing of undrafted free-agent Weslye Saunders.

Saunders did seem to possess the prototypical size, speed and athleticism of a Gronkowski, but after being suspended for PEDs, he quickly fell out of favor in Pittsburgh and was released.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the newsworthy free-agent signing of former Chargers tight end Ladarius Green, an understudy to the legendary Antonio Gates and a youngster just itching for his own place to shine.

While Saunders’ potential was perhaps a mirage and fabricated by Pittsburgh’s desire to find its own matchup nightmare, Green did seem to come to town equipped with the real goods, as evidenced by the 37 catches for 429 yards he totaled in 2015 while seeing the most action of his career, thanks to the four-game PED suspension served by Gates at the beginning of the season.

Unfortunately, Green suffered multiple concussions in San Diego, and when he arrived in Pittsburgh, he did so as damaged goods, only playing in six of the team’s 19 games in 2016.

Green was released by the team last offseason after failing a physical, and like Saunders, he’s currently a free agent.

That brings us to last August and a trade with the 49ers that brought tight end Vance McDonald to Pittsburgh in-exchange for a fifth-round pick, a deal that was quickly overshadowed two days later by the free agent signing of decorated cornerback Joe Haden.

Like Green before him, McDonald came to town with the kind of size and speed possessed by so many athletically freakish tight ends that seemed to be popping up in every NFL city besides Pittsburgh.

If you watch his 2017 highlight video that’s 2:03 long, you’ll find a few instances in-which McDonald was tantalizingly close to breaking a play and adding at least a minute or two to his reel.

In addition to his athletic potential, McDonald arrived to town with a reputation for having bad hands — a reputation he failed to erase.

It also didn’t help that he had some injury problems in his inaugural campaign as a member of the Black-and-gold.

Yes, despite his spurts of potential and, at 6’4” and 267 pounds, his obvious size and athleticism, 2017 was pretty much a lost year for McDonald.

”Overshadowed” and “tantalizingly close” certainly described McDonald’s first season as a member of the Black-and-gold.

He just never quite seemed to fit in with the Steelers’ offensive plans, and when he did get a chance to break through, he came up just a little short.

Much like trying to find two consecutive days of sunshine and clear skies, it seems like Pittsburgh will never have a tight end who dwarfs defensive backs, outruns linebackers and has an annoying touchdown celebration dance.

But if you google “Vance McDonald breakout season,” you will find many articles predicting a big year for the big guy.

You hear nuggets from Steelers insiders such as Dale Lolley, who says it really wasn’t McDonald’s injury issues that kept him from being a bigger contributor in 2017, it was those injuries combined with his unfamiliarity with the offense, thanks to his late arrival to town.

Apparently, McDonald’s locker will be next to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s this season, and that could only lead to chemistry and rapport.

You know how much of a security blanket the tight end has been for Roethlisberger throughout his career, and if McDonald really does have a breakout season in 2018, that security blanket could be of the electric variety.

Speaking of electric, McDonald does appear to have an edge to him, and a bit of a swagger.

He may even have one of those annoying touchdown celebration dances only the truly gifted tight ends seem to roll out.

From my lips to the football gods’ ears.

The Steelers have been looking for a freakishly athletic tight end for far too long.

Maybe his name is Vance McDonald.

Updating the Steelers salary cap situation heading into training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/25/2018 - 6:55am

Analyzing how the salary cap might impact personnel decisions for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.

The dog days of summer are upon us and, with them, comes the most boring time of the NFL season. So what better time of the year to roll out how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ salary cap is shaping up? Just because the initial free agency period is over with, the NFL draft has concluded, and most of the draft picks have signed on the dotted line to potentially become millionaires, doesn’t mean cap should be ignored.

Without proper cap management, a team starts out with multiple losses on their record. A team with oodles of cap space generally means it is riddled with young and potentially low-quality players. A team who is right up against the cap may find itself shut out during the crucial free agency period, or forced to jettison valuable veteran players in order to free up space. Luckily for Steelers fans, we have GM Kevin Colbert and his right-hand man Omar Khan.

According to Over the Cap, Pittsburgh is currently sitting with a positive balance of $5,483,820. Anyone who has read my cap articles knows this number doesn’t tell the whole story. This is not something OTC is doing wrong, it’s just how the archaic NFL salary cap works.

What in the $5.8 million figure is left out?

Rule of 51:

This is one of the biggest head-scratching items affecting the cap in the offseason. The NFL only figures the team’s 51 highest salaries into salary cap until the regular season starts. Then the players who have made the 53 man roster are figured into the NFL salary cap. Why ignore calculating in the salaries of those other two players in the offseason? Your guess is as good as mine.

Practice squad:

The Steelers are months away from setting these (potential) 11 players, but in the end, the team still has to account for the players. International Player Pathway program player Christian Scotland-Williamson, is exempted from counting against the cap if he makes the practice squad.

OTA per diem:

Believe it not, NFL players get a per diem for attending OTAs in the offseason. The payouts range from $1,000 to $1,800. However, not every player on the 90-man roster will attend OTAs, so the figure varies. Now that OTAs are over, the Steelers know the full count of the amount which really isn’t very significant.

2019 carryover:

Think of this money as a rainy-day fund. This money is held back in case of injuries during the regular season or other teams looking to poach players from the practice squad by raising their salaries.

Rookies:

The Steelers’ 2018 rookie draft class is under contract with the lone exception of Terrell Edmunds. The first-rounder still remains unsigned, but there shouldn’t be anything to worry about regarding the former Virginia Tech safety and his contract. NFL rookie contracts are slotted and there’s not much in the deals to haggle about. For a little perspective — T.J. Watt didn’t sign his rookie deal until June 14 last year. There’s no rush, as training camp is still weeks away.

Current cap space: $5,483,820

Draft picks including displacement: $1.4 million (Displacement happens anytime a player’s salary is deducted from the roster and another player’s salary replaces it.)

  • The inclusion of 52 and 53 players: $1.11 million
  • Practice squad: $1.4 million
  • OTA per diem: $250,000
  • Carryover: $3.5 million

Total: -$-2,176,180

What does OTC already include in the 2018 cap space?

  • The 2017 carryover: $4 million
  • Injured reserve: $1,125,622 (Does not include Ryan Shazier, as he’s on the PUP list — which is simply a formality to him heading to IR for bookkeeping purposes.)
  • Dead money: $5,818,595 (This amount is from players who were released that had guaranteed money still owed to them.)
  • Le’Veon Bell: Just in case you’re not familiar with how the franchise tag works — once the tag is designated, the full value is applied toward the cap.

Should Steelers fans be worried about clearing up $2.1 million? Nope. Dashawn Phillips, Bryce Harris, and Steven Ridley are currently in the Top 51 salaries and they’re viewed as long shots to make the final roster. They’ll likely be replaced by cheaper players while not leaving any dead cap space. While their replacements will not fix the small cap deficit, it’s a step in that direction. Higher priced vets could end up being cast off and replaced, but another solution could be extending our high-priced, tagged players. Extensions for restricted free agent Anthony Chickillo ($1.9 million), Jordan Berry ($1.9 million), or Chris Boswell ($2.9 million) would exit the Steelers from that $2.1 million cap deficit and lock up valued players for years to come. Bell isn’t included here, as I personally think negotiations are dead and over with. A fall-back plan for freeing up cap space could always be a re-work of Cam Heyward’s contract. This seems unnecessary due to the fact that doing a real re-tool of his deal would lead to more than $5 million in cap savings in 2018. Pittsburgh just doesn’t need that much now unless disaster were to strike.

Podcast: Who will breakout in 2018? JuJu Smith-Schuster or T.J. Watt?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/25/2018 - 6:08am

In the latest episode of the “Steelers News” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-gold from the week that was.

The 2018 NFL Draft is over and, believe it or not, there’s lots to talk about heading into a big week of offseason news for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the new show Steelers News:

  • Who will breakout in 2018? T.J. Watt or JuJu Smith-Schuster?
  • Talking the details of making the decision...
  • Steelers don’t need anymore workout heroes
  • If I could pick ONE Steelers legend to play today, who would it be?
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, goes over everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on our BlogTalkRadio page. If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below. Be sure to follow us on iTunes by searching The Standard is the Standard.

The show is sponsored by Frank Walker Law, the top criminal defense firm to call in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and home to one of the nation’s top-100 ranked trial attorneys in Frank Walker. For his PA office, call 412-212-3878 or to reach his WV office call 304-712-2089. You should also check out his website frankwalkerlaw.com to see how he can help you in your time of need. Frank Walker Law: Real Talk, Real Experience, Real Results.

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