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.
SANTA CLARA -- Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley will return to the starting lineup in the NFC Championship Game, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday morning.
Moseley will take over as the starter at right cornerback against the Green Bay Packers to replace Ahkello Witherspoon, who started the 49ers’ past six games. Moseley’s matchup against Packers star receiver Davante Adams figures to be one of the keys to Sunday’s game.
The 49ers and Packers meet at Levi’s Stadium at 3:40 p.m. PT with the winning team earning a trip to Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 2.
Moseley replaced Witherspoon in both of the 49ers’ past two games. When Witherspoon struggled, Moseley entered the game for the final drive of the 49ers’ Week 17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Moseley made a pass breakup in the end zone to help the 49ers preserve a 26-21 victory that clinched the NFC West title and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Last week, Moseley took over after Witherspoon was beaten early in the game for a 41-yard touchdown from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs. It was the Vikings’ only touchdown in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory.
After being benched, Witherspoon approached 49ers special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower on the sideline and asked to assume all of Moseley’s responsibilities in the kicking game.
Witherspoon has started 30 of the 37 games in which he has appeared since the 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft.
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Moseley started eight games at right cornerback this season when Witherspoon missed extended playing time due to a foot sprain. Moseley also started a game at left cornerback when Richard Sherman was out against the Atlanta Falcons with a hamstring injury.
Moseley is a second-year pro from Tennessee. The 49ers signed him in 2018 as an undrafted free agent. He saw action in just one game as a rookie before sustaining a season-ending dislocated shoulder.
SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers reportedly will lose defensive backs coach Joe Woods at the end of their playoff run.
Joe Woods “is on track” to become the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns under new coach Kevin Stefanski, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning.
Woods signed a one-year contract with the 49ers last year to become defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The Browns had not asked the 49ers for permission to hire Woods, a source told NBC Sports Bay Area, because Woods is free to leave the 49ers at the end of the season when his contract expires without receiving permission from coach Kyle Shanahan.
[RELATED: Report: Browns targeting 49ers assistants as coordinators]
Under Woods, the 49ers had the NFL’s No. 1 ranked pass defense, allowing just 169.2 yards passing per game. It was the best pass defense in the league since 2009, when the New York Jets allowed 153.7.
Woods, 49, who has 16 years of NFL coaching experience, was hired last year to replace Jeff Hafley, who became Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. Hafley is now the head coach at Boston College. Woods spent the past two seasons as the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator.