SteelerNation.com

Long-Term Deal Advantageous For Both Villanueva, Steelers

By Mike Ashcraft
SteelerNation.com

The time is now for the Pittsburgh Steelers and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to agree to terms to a long-term contract, ensuring the blindside protection of the franchise’s most valuable asset — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Villanueva has traveled an interesting and inspiring road to the starting lineup of a solid Steelers’ offensive line.

The son of a Lieutenant Commander in the Spanish Navy, Villanueva started 24 of the 28 games he played in at Army (2006-09). He saw action at left tackle, the defensive line and even wide receiver. After serving three tours in Afghanistan as an active member of the U.S. Army from 2010-13, Villanueva returned to the gridiron in 2014. He joined Pittsburgh’s practice squad after he was signed and released as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Villanueva played in 18 games in 2015 and cracked the starting lineup in 12 of them. He started all 19 games (16 regular season, three postseason) for the Steelers in 2016, helping to guide Pittsburgh to an AFC North Division title and an AFC Championship Game appearance. According to Pro Football Focus, Villanueva graded out as the 24th-best tackle after ranking 49th in 2015. He played in more snaps (1,276) than any other tackle and was fourth in pass block-efficiency from week 12 through the playoffs, surrendering just one sack and 12 pressures.

Now, with the Steelers poised to make a run at a ninth Super Bowl appearance in 2017, Villanueva finds himself without a contract. He chose to decline Pittsburgh’s $615,000 exclusive rights free agent tender and was only able to participate in the Steelers’ organized team activities and minicamp after signing a waiver.

The Steelers have Villanueva in a tough spot. As Bob Labriola of Steelers.com noted, Villanueva stands to make more money by agreeing to a long-term deal. If he chose to play year-to-year, Pittsburgh could potentially slap the franchise tag on him and control his rights for the next three years before he would become an unrestricted free agent. It would be a risk to bet on himself cashing a bigger contract as a then-32-year-old. It absolutely behooves Villanueva and his agent to nail down a long-term contract with the Steelers before training camp opens at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe on July 27.

After being in flux for some of the prime years of Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers have finally assembled an offensive line worthy of protecting their signal caller. Center Maurkice Pouney and right guard David DeCastro are Pro Bowlers and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Left guard Ramon Foster is extremely solid, and now Villanueva has developed into the type of tackle who can be trusted to keep Roethlisberger upright. The unit allowed just 21 sacks last year — second-best in the NFL. Villanueva is owed for much of that success.

It’s time to reward Villanueva with a long-term contract that will be beneficial to both him, and, most importantly, his quarterback.

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