Steelers Trade for Vance McDonald. Does “Varsity” Tight End Mean Trouble for Xavier Grimble?

With the clock ticking on Ben Roethlisberger‘s career and therefore the franchise’s Super Bowl window, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert looked at the team’s tight end depth chart, found it wanting and took action.

  • The Steelers traded a 4th round pick form the 2018 NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for tight end Vance McDonald and a 5th round pick in 2018.
Vance McDonald, Vance McDonald Trade, Steelers trade for Vance McDonald

New Steelers tight end Vance McDonald advances the ball for the 49ers against the Broncos. Photo Credit: AP via Yahoo Sports

When asked what led the Steelers to make such an uncharacteristic move so late in the season, Mike Tomlin refused sugar coat his assessment of his Tight Ends:

The guys hadn’t been consistently varsity enough for our comfort. It’s as black and white as that. They’ve had some moments positively and had some moments negatively, and so we were in the market for a guy that was NFL-capable. McDonald is that.

Jesse James ears are burning brightly. When the Steelers drafted James in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft the Pennsylvania native wasn’t regarded as Heath Miller’s heir apparent, a move made clear by the Steelers rapid signing of Ladarius Green to start free agency in 2016.

Nonetheless, James started for most of the 2016 season while Ladarius Green remained injured, and generally played above expectations, including making key catches in the game winning drive of the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens. When the Steelers cut Green in June, James WAS the heir apparent, but his performance in training camp and preseason hasn’t been consistent.

  • But if Jesse James ears are burning Xavier Grimble’s  hands are likely the ones to tremble thanks to this move.

Grimble spent parts of 2014 on the Patriots and 49er’s practice squads, and then served a full internship in 2015 on the Steelers practice squad. While Grimble made the final 53 man roster, his performance was inconsistent down the stretch, despite having ample opportunity to prove himself in Green’s absence. Word is that Grimble has been inconsistent for much of the summer, and McDonald’s arrival could signal a visit form the Turk for Grimble.

Mike Tomlin has not commented how Vance McDonald’s arrival impacts the rest of the tight end depth chart, nor would he commit to using McDonald in any specific way, explaining that the Steelers first signed Darrius Heyward-Bey as a wide receiver, not realizing his ability on special teams.

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Vance McDonald 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft, taking him six slots after Le’Veon Bell. During his first four season in the NFL, Vance McDonald has started 30 games and appeared in 48, while catching 64 passes for 391 yards for seven touchdowns.

In addition to Grimble, James and McDonald, the Steelers also have veteran David Johnson along with Jake McGee. The Steelers cut hopeful Phazahn Odom shortly after acquiring McDonald.

Welcome to Steelers Nation, Vance McDonald.

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2 thoughts on “Steelers Trade for Vance McDonald. Does “Varsity” Tight End Mean Trouble for Xavier Grimble?

  1. IMO, this signing makes Grimble completely redundant.

    The team’s other tight ends each bring something McDonald doesn’t. James is a taller red zone target than McDonald, a more reliable target who could be used to convert short-yardage first downs, and he may have some unrealized potential. David Johnson is the best blocker of the group, and the only one who could play fullback if necessary.

    Xavier Grimble, on the other hand, is just a guy with the exact same body as McDonald, but none of the skills. McDonald is a far better athlete. McDonald is a far better blocker. Both are somewhat inefficient in terms of dropping or missing passes, but McDonald has been at least somewhat better than Grimble’s numbers in that area during each of the past two seasons, and McDonald makes up for it with big-play potential.

    I don’t see any reason to keep Xavier Grimble on the same roster as Vance McDonald. If they kept Grimble and it caused them to end up losing someone with real starter potential, like Brian Allen, I would be disappointed.

    • Thanks for commenting.

      Honestly, on paper I tend to agree with you. But as I admit, I’m a sucker for David Johnson. Guys who are the last pick for a Super Bowl champion (as Johnson was in 2009) and then make a living in the NFL for themselves, switching positions and bouncing back from several injuries, and fashion 7 year careers for themselves have that impact on me.

      With that said, Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, and James Daniels know a little bit more about what makes a good NFL tight end that I do, so I’ll have to trust their judgement.

      Beyond that, if the Steelers cut Grimble, he’ll be signed by someone else. David Johnson will probably still be available should an injury occur.

      Once again, thanks for contributing to this site.

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