In his final season with the Steelers, McDonald had 15 catches for 99 yards. He missed two games after testing positive for COVID-19 and spent the time quarantined on his farm outside Pittsburgh.
McDonald was also the Steelers' 2020 nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work with Convoy of Hope, an organization that, among other things, supplied goods and PPE to families in Western Pennsylvania during the coronavirus pandemic.
"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 statement. "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."
McDonald's retirement saves the cap-strapped Steelers $5.2 million in 2021. With Eric Ebron under contract, McDonald's option was not likely to be picked up by the Steelers, who also have Zach Gentry, who finished the season on injured reserve, under contract and signed two other tight ends to reserve/futures contracts.
Though the announcement came almost two weeks after the Steelers' wild-card loss to the Cleveland Browns, McDonald said he had known this would be his final season for about six months.
"It's such a hard thing to explain," McDonald said. "I always knew this was going to be the last one, and I took it for what it's worth and all of the appreciation. ... It was a fun long journey this last season, especially all the success we had earlier."
After the loss to the Browns, McDonald first told friend and teammate Ben Roethlisberger that he was retiring.
"We were both super sad," McDonald said. "We embraced in a very manly way, so we just hugged in the middle of the locker room. He was crying. ... I had some tears on my face, man. I was joyful more than anything in the moment because it was a decision I personally had thought of and came to terms with."
McDonald and his wife are now focused on opening Hidden Meadows Farm Retreat outside Pittsburgh, a place where McDonald hopes to host Christian leaders and other faith-based or nonprofit retreats.
"I am appreciative of Vance's contributions during the last four years of his career that he spent in Pittsburgh," coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement. "He was a class act on and off the field, leading many of our efforts in the community while also being a voice for our social justice efforts and the community work during the pandemic. I wish he and his family nothing but the best in his retirement and his continued work to be a pillar in the community."
The 30-year-old McDonald was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft and joined the Steelers through a trade in 2017.
Known for his stiff-arm of Chris Conte on a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown in 2018, McDonald retires with 181 receptions for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns in 101 games over an eight-year career. With the Steelers, he had 117 receptions for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns.
"I will honestly miss holding the football and running into a human being as hard as I possibly can, because that is something I appreciate," McDonald said.