Should Vance McDonald Have Remained Home for the Cowboys Game?


Andy Lyons/Getty Images Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald after catching a pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger during a game in 2018.

On Monday the Pittsburgh Steelers placed tight end Vance McDonald on the team’s COVID-19 Reserve list, which in turn, led to four other players—including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—being added to the list. What’s notable is that McDonald missed last Friday’s practice with an unspecified “illness,” but didn’t test positive for COVID-19 until after the team returned from Dallas.

Knowing that McDonald had what have been described as “cold-like symptoms” prior to leaving for Dallas, should the Steelers have left him behind in Pittsburgh? It’s a pertinent question, and not only because the Baltimore Ravens experienced a similar scenario with cornerback Marlon Humphrey a week earlier. On Thursday, Steelers rookie running back Anthony McFarland Jr. was added to the team’s injury report with an unspecified “illness.”

Assuming McFarland has symptoms that could be COVID-19, should he be kept away from the team for an extended period of days, knowing what unfolded with McDonald? Does it matter that McFarland—like McDonald—is a backup and not a starter? (McDonald had one reception for two yards against the Cowboys while McFarland had three carries for seven yards).

Of course, one key difference between this week and last is that the Steelers don’t have to get on an airplane, by virtue of playing at home this weekend. As such, it’s potentially easier to handle a situation where a player is sick. The organization doesn’t have to make a decision as to whether a particular individual travels with the team.

But it seems like the Steelers would be wise to err on the side of caution, especially since the Vance McDonald situation could lead to Roethlisberger and linebacker Vince Williams missing Sunday’s game versus the Bengals.

In hindsight, it also looks like McDonald and Roethlisberger may have been tempting fate when they complained publicly about the Steelers bye week getting moved because of a COVID-19 outbreak among Tennessee Titans players and coaches. For his part, Roethlisberger said the Steelers “got the short end of the stick” in that situation, while McDonald said he spent the weekend of the unplanned bye week “being angry” about having to change his vacation plans, among other things.

Steelers Injury Update

It’s good news, though, that McFarland was the only active Steelers player to miss practice on Thursday, though defensive lineman Tyson Alualu (knee) was a limited participant for the second day in a row. In a positive development, Alualu’s backup (Isaiah Buggs) returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s session with an ankle injury, though he returned in a limited capacity.

Meanwhile, slot cornerback Mike Hilton—who is attempting to come back from a shoulder injury—was a limited participant on Thursday after being a full participant on Wednesday, which could be viewed as a negative indicator.

Bengals Injury Update

As for the Bengals, they had four players with miss practice on Thursday due to injury, namely offensive lineman Bobby Hart (knee), running back Joe Mixon (foot) and cornerback Darius Phillips (groin). Cornerback Mackensie Alexander also missed practice due to illness. (On Monday Alexander sent a tweet relating that he doesn’t have COVID.)

At the moment, Cincinnati has five players on its COVID-19 reserve list, including defensive tackle Margus Hunt, cornerback Trae Waynes and former Steelers offensive tackle Fred Johnson. The other two players are part of the practice squad: defensive back Winston Rose and former Steelers cornerback Brian Allen.

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