After the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to sign franchise tagged running back Le’Veon Bell to a long-term contract extension by the league’s Monday deadline the talk about him predictable turned to whether or not he’d show up at training camp on time. Bell, however, might not be the only Steelers player to fail to report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe a week from Thursday as speculation is growing that tackle Alejandro Villanueva might not as well.
Villanueva has yet to sign his one-year exclusive rights tender with nine days to go until the Steelers report for training camp and thus he’s technically not obligated to show up at Latrobe. If he does show up, he’ll either need to either sign his $615,000 tender or an injury waiver, just as he did during the team’s offseason practices. An injury waiver might be fine for offseason practices but it would be a risky course of action for training camp for obvious reasons.
During the team’s offseason practices, Villanueva was reluctant to talk about his current contract situation and wouldn’t reveal whether or not he’d show up for training camp on time as he’s apparently left that for his agent to decide for him.
“After taking orders my whole life, now I’m working with a really good agent,” Villanueva, a former Army Ranger captain, said in June. “I’ll do whatever he tells me to do.”
If Villanueva ultimately decides not to show up for the start of training camp it would definitely get the Steelers attention to some degree, but with that said, his absence would probably be a short-lived one as the organization has a long-standing tradition of not negotiating contracts with players who aren’t present.
His agent’s recommendation and all, not showing up for the start of training camp is probably something that goes against every moral fiber in Villanueva’s body if you’re familiar with his backstory and thus I imagine he’s really conflicted right now.
Like it or not, Villanueva is in a tough situation right now when it comes to his contract situation as the Steelers effectively control him for not only the 2017 season, but 2018’s as well. Sure, a first- or second-round restricted tender next offseason wouldn’t totally prevent other teams from making a strong and lucrative offer sheet run at him, but with that said, the Steelers would still have the right to match one should that ultimately happen. The most-likely outcome would be him remaining in Pittsburgh on whichever level of restricted tender he would receive from the Steelers.
If things stand as they are right now, Villanueva, at most, will earn just shy of $5 million in salary over the course of the next two seasons and that assumes he receives a first-round restricted tender next offseason. That $5 million, however, doesn’t include any performance-based pay from the NFL, which is something Villanueva has earned each of the last two seasons. In short, you can probably cap his earning potential over the course of the next two seasons at $6 million barring any kind of restricted offer sheet.
The quick solution to Villanueva’s current contract situation would be for the Steelers to sign him long-term between now and the start of training camp and such a transaction isn’t unfathomable and especially now that the team knows where they stand with Bell in 2017. With that said, the Steelers might first require Villanueva to show up a week from the Thursday and sign his exclusive rights tender before anything else happens.
Personally, I will be surprised if Villanueva doesn’t report for the start of training camp as in my opinion, he has nothing to gain by staying away.