The San Francisco 49ers have traded tight end Vance McDonald and a fifth-round pick in next year's draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a fourth-round pick, the teams announced Tuesday.
McDonald, who signed a three-year, $19.7 million contract extension with the Niners in December, had career highs in receiving yards (391), yards per reception (16.29) and touchdowns (four) in 11 games last season before suffering a shoulder injury.
The acquisition reinforces the Steelers' need for playmaking at tight end since Heath Miller retired in 2016. Last year's experiment with Ladarius Green didn't pan out. Jesse James and Xavier Grimble, despite showing flashes, were inconsistent catching passes in training camp.
Ben Roethlisberger likes to target tight ends in scoring range, particularly on back-shoulder throws in the back of the end zone. McDonald, with seven touchdown catches since 2015, should be able to help.
Coach Mike Tomlin, who recalls liking McDonald's skill set coming out of Rice in 2013, has made clear his tight end crop needed an infusion of competition.
"The guys hadn't been consistently varsity enough for our comfort," Tomlin said of his rotation through the first three weeks of preseason games. "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."