Nick Vannett Solves Tight End, Cap Concerns for Steelers

Noah Strackbein

Vance McDonald remains a starting tight end in the NFL, but really, so does Ramon Foster. The two veterans have been named the best bet for the Steelers to cut ties with in order to build cap space before free agency. 

McDonald's 2020 cap hit will remove $7.1 million from the team's salary use. The 29-year-old is entering his seventh season, still playing at a starting level, but isn't the ideal player for Pittsburgh to have on the roster. 

As they search for answers to retaining Bud Dupree and a number of offensive and defensive starters, they'll need to consider moving on from veteran pieces with large cap hits. 

McDonald is one of them. 

The other is Ramon Foster. The left guard will be 35-years-old by the start of the season. His $5.5 million cap hit has placed him at the top of many's list for a cap casualty, and even he joked about not returning. 

“I know the reality of this,” Foster said following the team's final game. “If they are going to release me, just tell me when I’m in Tennessee. Don’t wait. That’s all I say. Don’t waste my time. I know they’ll give me that common courtesy, and I’ll do a farewell."

Replacing Foster could adjust the offensive line. Zach Banner is looking to return this season and compete as a starter. Unconcerned about who else is on the roster and focused on earning the job - on top of being able to be tagged this offseason - keeping the tackle is an easy choice. 

Pittsburgh could also move Matt Feiler back to guard and only add one new starter to their lineup. 

Replacing Foster can be mapped out quiet easy. Keep the younger crowd and allow the veteran to move on in his thirties. McDonald doesn't seem to be as simple - even though it is. 

Looking to fill the starting tight end position can come with a player already in the city. Since trading for Nick Vannett in Week 4, the third-year tight end had to step into six starting roles throughout the season. 

"From the time I showed up I loved being a part of it, being a part of the locker room," Vannett said. "This is a great group of guys, it's a great organization to be a part of, it's very clear what they're trying to get done here they have six previous Super Bowls to show for it."

And he wants to be in Pittsburgh. 

If the other options are to use an early draft pick on a tight end or keep McDonald around for a higher price, it's not much of a debate. Vannett's market should be something similar to Jesse James' in 2019 deal with the Detroit Lions. 

His four-year $22.5 million deal last offseason only made a $2.2 million hit for the Lions in his first season. An average cap hit of roughly $6 million allows him to earn a starting veteran salary but keeps the Steelers in a more manageable financial state this offseason.

Able to now keep the rest of their pieces together and have a starting tight end with a high ceiling and a love for his new city, Vannett makes sense to re-sign and put the Steelers in a position to figure out a tight cap year. 

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