I’m not sure who exactly might have caught this a couple of days ago, but on Saturday, Mike Florio wrote an article on his Pro Football Talk platform that essentially accused the Pittsburgh Steelers of attempting to coerce left tackle Alejandro Villanueva into settling into a deal after Bob Labriola penned an article for the team’s website in which he likened the lineman’s contract status to that of Willie Parker’s in 2006.
For a brief recap of the aforementioned, Parker, like Villanueva, was an undrafted free agent who during his first season on the roster produced sparsely but showed potential. By the end of their second seasons, each of them had the look of a top player. Running backs history have a short shelf life, and that helped influence Parker’s signing a four-year deal as an exclusive rights free agent after two years that was less than his market value.
Labriola suggested that Villanueva should heed the lessons learned here, especially given the way injuries piled up for Parker shortly after. He was coming off a season-ending injury in the year in which he would have hit unrestricted free agency. Meanwhile, the left tackle would be entering his year-31 season when he hits free agency.
According to Florio, the article on the team’s website
is trying to put the squeeze on Villanueva to trade his 2017 exclusive-rights free agent (i.e., not a free-agent) tender for 2017 and his looming restricted free agency tender for 2018 and his shot at the open market or franchise tag in 2019 for a deal that pays him well but not nearly as well as he could be paid if he waited for a shot at the open market.
After recapping Labriola’s article and segueing off the whole lesson learned line, Florio followed writing, “here’s a different lesson for Villanueva—tell the Steelers to stick it sideways”, adding that “the Steelers are trying to lowball Villanueva because they can, and they want to prey on the crappy circumstances that come from being undrafted to pay him less than he’s worth, both as a player and a leader”, ignoring the fact that he is actually not really established as a team leader.
He continued to say that Villanueva “should walk out and stay out until the team gives him a fair offer that rewards him for what he’s done and compensates him for what he’ll be expected to do”. There are countless issues with Florio’s article, beyond simply the fact that he doesn’t even mention the performance bonus pool that compensates overperforming players, but the biggest assumption here is that Labriola was acting under the directions of somebody from the team.
As you might expect, Burt Lauten offered a response, writing on Twitter that “the opinions of Bob Labriola do not always reflect the tone of the organization” and that “this story came directly from his point of view”.
While acknowledging the bias involved in me writing this, Labriola has written several times over the years that he has never been told what to write or not write, and I tend to believe that would be the case. I think Florio’s presumptuous article here was out of line, or at least reaching.