The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly had a few players that failed to live up to exceptions during the their recently concluded 2016 season but tackle Alejandro Villanueva wasn’t one of them. In fact, the former Army captain exceeded his expectations during the 2016 season and that didn’t come as a shock to head coach Mike Tomlin.
“I thought he grew by leaps and bounds, not that I’m surprised by it,” Tomlin said Tuesday of Villanueva. “He’s a sharp guy. He’s a tough, diligent and prepared worker. I think it’s reasonable to expect his play to continue to be on the rise as he gets more snaps, experience and exposure.”
Throughout the 2016 regular season Villanueva continued to get more and more comfortable as a starter and while their grading process is often questioned by several, Pro Football Focus liked what they saw out of the Steelers starting left tackle.
“Villanueva has become a Top-10 tackle over the last eight weeks,” Sam Monson of PFF tweeted a few weeks ago. “I can’t think of a mid-season switch like that for a lineman recently.”
As the Steelers head into the offseason they can do so knowing that their entire starting 2016 offseason line will remain in place in 2017. While Villanueva is technically scheduled to be an exclusive rights free agent come the start of the 2017 league year in March, he will easily be retained with a minimum salary tender.
While the Steelers don’t normally give contract extensions to exclusive rights free agents, they might be wise to sign Villanueva to one at some point during the offseason and especially being as they can probably do so at a very affordable price. However, if such an extension doesn’t take place, the Steelers are still all but guaranteed to have Villanueva in 2018 as well as he would surely be restricted tendered at a second-round level after the 2017 season ends.
“Hopefully, I can get the trust from this team to continue to play left tackle in the NFL,” Villanueva said earlier this week, according to Chris Harlan of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Personally, it doesn’t look or sound to me like Villanueva should worry about his NFL career coming to an end anytime soon. He figures to be the Steelers starting left tackle for at least the next two seasons and maybe even longer.