The 49ers need to trade TE Vance McDonald to the Ravens

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Tight end Vance McDonald #89 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Tight end Vance McDonald #89 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers should try to trade tight end Vance McDonald to the Baltimore Ravens after the Ravens lost Darren Waller to a season-long suspension.

Trades are rare in the NFL, but the San Francisco 49ers should move tight end Vance McDonald to the Baltimore Ravens as soon as possible.

The Ravens, of course, will be without tight end Darren Waller after he was suspended for the entire 2017 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, as reported by Jeremy Bergman of on Friday.

This is bad news for Baltimore, especially after being forced to release No. 1 TE Dennis Pitta after he suffered a season-ending hip injury.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

With Pitta and Waller gone, the Ravens are now left with Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore, Ryan Malleck, Benjamin Watson and Maxx Williams on their roster.

Aside from the 36-year-old Watson, perhaps, that’s not exactly a lot of firepower for a Ravens team lacking offensive weapons.

Meanwhile, the Niners have a logjam at the position.

In addition to returning players like McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell, San Francisco brought in free-agent Logan Paulsen, as well as rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini.

The latter three are very much in play for roster spots when the 53-man group is announced to start the season. McDonald, who has largely underwhelmed over his career, is a prime candidate to move.

And now is the time.

Why It Makes Sense for the 49ers

The 49ers already dangled McDonald on the trade block before the 2017 NFL Draft. No trade happened, of course. But that’s enough evidence to suggest he’s not in the team’s long-term plans.

Since joining the team as a second-round pick back in 2013, McDonald has mostly been known for injuries and poor hands.

Just ask Pro Football Focus’ David Neumann:

Moving McDonald via a trade would free up a roster spot, all but guaranteeing pass-catching phenom, Hikutini, a roster spot and chance to contribute right away.

Plus, it would free general manager John Lynch of the lucrative contract McDonald has that expires in 2021.

But how would it benefit Baltimore? Remember, trades have to be two-sided.

Why It Makes Sense for the Ravens

The Ravens are already down two tight ends, so the positional need is clearly there.

And while Watson had 825 receiving yards and six touchdowns with the New Orleans Saints last season, one should note these were both career highs. He’s averaged just 413.6 yards per season, and last year was with one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.

Oh, and there’s that age thing too.

Expecting Watson to replicate these numbers in Baltimore is silly. McDonald, however, is 27 years old and just hitting the prime of his career.

Yes, the drops and injuries would remain a concern. But McDonald is coming off a career-high 391 receiving yards and four touchdowns on a bad, bad Niners offense last season.

Those drops appear to be on the decline too, as PFF’s Jeff Deeney pointed out last season:

With players like Pitta gone, and wide receiver Steve Smith retired, McDonald could still wind up being a valuable commodity even if wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is now in town.

The only question would be how to make it work.

How to Make a Trade Work

If we assume McDonald’s hands are getting better (scary, I know), the only thing preventing a McDonald-to-Ravens trade would be contract obligations.

San Francisco and Baltimore have a trade rapport already. Remember, the Niners landed Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah earlier this offseason. So it isn’t as if Lynch and Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome aren’t on speaking terms.

McDonald will count for a $4.166 million cap hit in 2017, per Over the Cap:

The Ravens aren’t exactly in a position to spend wildly this season. They have just $5,833,545 in available cap space right now, and a trade would leave just over $1.668 million remaining, assuming the terms stay the exact same.

If McDonald didn’t pan out after one season in Baltimore, cutting him in 2018 wouldn’t put the Ravens in the hole. While the dead money would hurt, the net savings would still be $1.8 million. It’s doable.

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And if the Ravens balked, San Francisco’s cap situation means they’d be perfectly OK with having to eat a chunk of McDonald’s 2017 salary to make a deal happen. Stuff like this is rare, but the 49ers are laden with cap space.

Draft-wise, the Ravens still have a pick in each round and may receive two late-round compensatory picks in 2018, which can now be traded.

Lynch probably won’t ask for much — a sixth-round pick would be wonderful. But a conditional pick, perhaps assuming McDonald reaches a certain threshold, would be all the more better for San Francisco.

Next: 49ers have tough roster decisions at tight end

At any rate, the Niners shouldn’t think twice about picking up the phone and calling the Ravens to see if they’d be interested in striking a deal.