The Steelers have place center Maurkice Pouncey on the COVID-19 reserve list before Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, the team announced. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.
Pouncey has not been listed as a close contact of any Steelers players previously and was a full participant in the team’s most recent practice on Sunday. It’s not clear if Pouncey’s addition was because of a positive test or potential exposure.
Pouncey will likely be replaced by third-year pro J.C. Hassenauer, who has filled in for Pouncey twice this season when he suffered minor injuries. Hassenauer spent most of the 2019 season on the Steelers practice squad, but earned a roster spot coming out of training camp this season and was elevated to the top backup at center after the release of veteran center/guard Stefen Wisniewski.
The Steelers will also be without starting running back James Conner, starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt and backup tackle Jerald Hawkins, who are all also on the COVID-19 list.
Guard Kevin Dotson and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs were removed from the COVID-19 reserve list on Tuesday. Coaches Danny Smith and Matt Canada, who missed practice time this week after testing positives, have also been cleared to return.
Former Steelers Kicker Matthew Wright Sings with Detroit Lions
Steelers practice squad kicker Matthew Wright has signed with the Detroit Lions for the 2021 season.
Wright, who was one of four practice squad players whose contracts the Steelers allowed to expire, signed a reserve/future contract with the Lions on Friday.
Wright played in three games for the Steelers in 2020, filling in for Chris Boswell, who was injured on two separate occasions. He made 7 of 7 extra points and 4 of 4 field goals, but struggled with his depth on kickoffs.
The Steelers initially signed Wright as a rookie free agent out of UCF in 2019, but he was released at the end of training camp. They did not bring him back for training camp this season, but signed him to the practice squad on Dec. 8 after a few consecutive weeks of tryouts, as an insurance policy for Boswell.
The Lions could have a vacancy this season at kicker as 36-year-old Matt Prater is a free agent and coming off his worst season in over a decade. Prater made 21 of 28 field goals for a 75% conversion rate, his worst since 2008. All of Prater’s misses were from over 40 yards.
Steelers TE Vance McDonald Retires
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald will retire after eight NFL seasons, the team announced on Friday.
McDonald, 30, spent the last four seasons with the Steelers as the team’s primary starting tight end.
“My family and I are so grateful for everything NFL football has provided us in our life — all the memories both good and the difficult, the relationships and friends we’ve made along the way, the life lessons the game provided both me and my loved ones,” McDonald said in a team press release. “It’s always been our dream and mission to leverage the platform given us through the NFL to help serve and uplift others along the way, and we will continue to find ways to serve others as we begin this next chapter of our lives. I am proud to retire a Steeler.”
Since joining the team in a trade from San Francisco before the 2017 season, McDonald started 47 games in Pittsburgh, catching 117 passes for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns.
McDonald will finish his eight-year career with 2,036 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns after being selected by the 49ers in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Rice.
In 2020, McDonald had yielded significant playing time to Eric Ebron at tight end, playing less than 50% of the team’s offensive snaps when healthy for the first time with the Steelers. Ebron played in 69.7% of the team’s offensive snaps compared to 44% for McDonald.
McDonald was a likely salary cap casualty as the Steelers entered the offseason an estimated $35 million over the cap. His retirement will save the team $5.2 million in cap obligations for 2021 before replacement. The Steelers will carry a $2.7 million dead cap hit this season to pay off a 2020 contract restructuring.
This season, McDonald was recognized for his work in the community as the Steelers’ nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Steelers Sign CB Stephen Denmark, TEs Charles Jones, Dax Raymond to Future Contracts
The Steelers signed four players to future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday, including former Washington first-round pick, quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
The team also announced the singings of defensive back Stephen Denmark and tight ends Charles Jones and Dax Raymond on Thursday afternoon.
Denmark, 24, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2019 NFL Draft and spent the last two seasons with Chicago and the Cleveland Browns. He was released from Chicago’s practice squad on Oct. 5, signed to Cleveland’s on Nov. 10 and then cut by the Browns on Dec. 1.
A 6-foot-3, 220-pound cornerback from Valdosta (Ga.) State, Denmark has never played in an NFL game. At Valdosta State, he moved from wide receiver to defense in his senior season, when he played 14 games and recorded 55 tackles, eight for a loss, had one sacks, three interceptions, 12 passes defended and forced one fumble as Valdosta went on to win the NCAA Division II championship.
Former Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend, now Chicago’s secondary coach, scouted Denmark for the Bears.
Jones finished the 2020 season on the Steelers’ practice squad. He originally signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane in 2019 and spent most of his rookie season on practice squad.
In 2020, he was waived by the Jaguars with an injury settlement. He spent three days on the Buffalo Bills practice squad before catching on with the Steelers on Nov. 17.
Jones has appeared in four career NFL games, all in 2019 with Jacksonville. He has one catch on one target for five yards and also played 10 snaps of special teams without recording any statistics. At Tulane, Jones caught 61 passes for 460 yards and eight touchdowns over four seasons, but his productivity declined in his junior and senior seasons.
Raymond will join the Steelers for a second stint. He signed with the team late in training camp after being released by the Chicago Bears, but was injured and waived with an injury settlement before the start of the season.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end originally signed with the Bears as an undrafted rookie out of Utah State in 2019. He suffered a head injury in Chicago’s fourth preseason game and he was placed on the injured reserve, then later waived with an injury settlement and re-signed to Chicago’s practice squad. He finished the 2019 preseason with three catches for 22 yards.
At Utah State, Raymond was a two-year starter, grabbing 72 balls for 873 yards and three touchdowns in his career. He was a two-time All-Mountain West selection.