In exchange for McDonald's services, Pittsburgh sent the 49ers its fourth-round pick in 2018 but also received San Francisco's fifth-round pick in the same draft.
So, considering where both teams are expected to finish in the standings in 2017, the Steelers essentially dropped down 10 spots (perhaps fewer) in order to acquire one of the freakishly athletic tight ends that everyone's been wanting since Rob Gronkowski became a thing.
But is McDonald that guy? He could be.
In fact, as per NFL.com, McDonald, a second-round pick in 2013, signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension in December to remain a 49er for the long-haul.
Turned out, the "long-haul" was mere months, since the 49ers immediately started looking to shop McDonald as soon as the 2017 off-season began.
On the surface, that seems kind of alarming. But you when consider the downtrodden 49ers are now under a new regime and in total-rebuild mode, they certainly don't need an expensive tight end clogging up their salary cap.
"Yes, but why not rebuild with a young and talented tight end as a big part of your offense?" you might ask.
I guess they are, and his name is George Kittle, the 49ers most recent fifth-round pick, who’s four years younger than the 27-year-old McDonald, perhaps just as talented, and certainly much cheaper.
So, there you go: Logically, it seems like a pretty decent move by the Steelers.
"But what about those drops," you ask.
I get your drift, and those are alarming, but that's why they call these kinds of moves gambles.
The one thing we know about McDonald is that he doesn't have concussion-related symptoms (at least one hopes not), an issue that ultimately snuffed out the Steelers career of the last freakishly-athletic tight end who tried to become their version of Gronk.
I'm talking about Ladarius Green who, following a lucrative, fanfare-generating free agent deal that brought him to Pittsburgh in an off-season move, played all of six games for Pittsburgh in 2016, before being released in May after failing a physical.
While the 6'4", 267-pound McDonald might not be quite as freakishly athletic as Green (4.69 speed vs. 4.5), at least he should stay on the field long enough to see if those shaky hands may have been the result of playing with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.
Shaky hands or not, history shows that the McDonald trade is a gamble that should come with little risk.
Two Augusts ago, the Steelers acquired cornerback Brandon Boykin from the Eagles in-exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick that could have been a fourth had Boykin been the immediate upgrade for the secondary that everyone—including Yours truly—thought he would be.
Despite so many people clamoring for Boykin to play more during the 2015 campaign, though, he didn't really see much action until near the end. Even then, he apparently didn't show enough to remain on Pittsburgh's roster moving forward and he’s still trying to upgrade another NFL secondary to no avail.
So, while the Steelers did lose a fifth-round pick, at least they gave it the old college try with Boykin.
Not long after acquiring Boykin, the Steelers lost kicker Shaun Suisham for the entire 2015 season after he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason opener. This meant going out and acquiring a new kicker, which soon became Garrett Hartley, before he also was lost due to a hamstring injury. The loss of Hartley led to Josh Scobee, who was acquired in a trade with the Jaguars for a 2016 sixth-round pick.
Sadly, it became apparent right away that Scobee wasn't worth even a sixth-round draft choice, and he was eventually released after missing one too many critical field goals to start the year.
Fortunately, Chris Boswell was quickly signed and proved to be refreshingly accurate, considering he was plucked off the street after winning a mid-season kicking competition.
Would you trade a sixth-round pick for Boswell right now? Because, if you would, that's essentially what the Steelers did two years ago—they just took the long route.
As for last summer, there was that rather controversial trade for cornerback Justin Gilbert from the Browns in exchange for a 2018 sixth-round pick.
As you know, that trade came to nothing, as Gilbert appears to be a lost cause. But I believe the Steelers just got that pick back, thanks to the trade on Saturday that sent receiver Sammie Coates to Cleveland.
Anyway, if it doesn't work out with McDonald, based on the way these mid-to-lower-round picks fly around these days, I'm sure the Steelers will find a way to get their fourth-rounder back.
And maybe use it in another August trade.