Vance McDonald is walking from Santa Clara to Pittsburgh today, singing “I Am 16 Going On 17.” He got a nice contract from the 49ers as Trent Baalke’s legacy signing, and now he doesn’t have to play for the team he signed for.
Now that he’s a Steeler, though, his future may be more problematic. Mike Tomlin might prefer Jesse James, his current tight end, or backup Xavier Grimble because his name is Xavier Grimble. But McDonald is now looking at a 10-win team with a sharper uniform in a more football-rabid town rather than a four-win team that thought red numbers on a black jersey was a good idea in a town that doesn’t mind leaving half of its stadium empty to sunstroke.
In other words, the Steelers didn’t win the trade and neither did the 49ers. Vance McDonald did.
Players usually don’t win much of anything in the modern NFL. They get paid, they get their bodies ravaged, their money and contracts disappear at a moment’s notice and an office dweller’s whim – it’s a swell life until it isn’t.
But in this small way – bad team to good team – McDonald triumphed. His time in San Francisco was intermittently happy, with injuries and impressive plays intertwining into a fairly nondescript footprint. But all evaluations of 49ers in the last three years should be heavily asterisked because of the turmoil-enriched failures that began atop the organizational chart and ground through to the equipment staff (for rhetorical excess use only; the equipment guys did fine).
But as a Steeler, McDonald gets to see how the other half lives, in a place where he will be known on sight from Primanti Bros. to the airport. If he has a decent year, he will be worshiped a great Scots god.
And he can start to wax nostalgic for that catch in the ’13 NFC Championship game, and imagine that there might be more where that came from.
Plus, he got paid. Happy times, from his pal Trent.