When it comes to Alejandro Villanueva, the Pittsburgh Steelers pretty much already know the kind of person they are going to get, which is no doubt a factor in their being in contract negotiations with the third-year offensive tackle, in spite of the fact that he is not even a restricted free agent.
Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who emerged ‘late’ in the league as a 25-year-old when he first made the team’s practice squad in 2014, knows that he is in a precarious position. He would be on the verge of turning 31 when he first takes the field after signing a new contract were he to play out the next two years to hit unrestricted free agency.
He understands his position, but he also understands where the Steelers are coming from. That is one of the reasons that he is comfortable participating in OTAs even though he is not under contract, a decision that required that he sign a waiver in order to do so.
But he also chose to participate because the 28-year-old knows that he is still a growing player. He finally talked to reporters for the first time after yesterday’s practice during the final OTA session after dodging them for weeks.
”I have to get so much better”, Villanueva said when speaking about participating in practice, referencing his “preparedness for the season”. He added, “I can’t come out here and say I am ready and prepared. I have a lot of coaching to get. I have to be able to continue to improve as a player…It’s a matter of what I need as a player and then all of the other decisions will sort themselves out”.
It should go without saying that a player being compensated at a level with which he is happy requires that he performs at a level with which the people paying him are happy. Villanueva may have finished the season strong last year, but he understands that there are elements of his game that are a continual work in progress, whether he is under contract or not.
The left tackle said that he never feels comfortable playing left tackle, and that “it’s not a comfortable position. I don’t think anybody’s ever felt comfortable playing left tackle because you always get exposed, you are always going to give up plays, whether you are the best or the worst in the NFL”.
As his position coach, Mike Munchak, just spoke about, the lineman said that “it’s a matter of increasing your consistency so you don’t look bad all of the time. I’m getting comfortable being uncomfortable”. He described coming out of his stance as “a humbling moment” knowing the sort of talent he has to go up against and the many different ways in which things can go wrong.
Ultimately, I would think that he understands he does not have a great deal of leverage as a player with two years of accrued experience, but he is also wise to heed the advice of his agent, a resource that he has never had in his life. He has the opportunity to provide financial security for his family, which is often a one-shot deal in the NFL.