The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2017 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Nevertheless, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: Alejandro Villanueva
Position: Left Tackle
Experience: 3 Years
We now move on to the starting offensive line portion of our exit meetings, and we will begin with our left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, who certainly had an adventurous year. Coming off a 2016 season in which he made significant progress by the end of the year, he pushed for a new contract and got it even though he was an exclusive rights free agent.
He didn’t have to push very hard, of course, because the Steelers wanted to get the deal done, too, and they came to a modest four-year deal as a result. But he did struggle during the early portions of the season, similar to his struggles early on a year ago.
Then he was thrown into the national spotlight inadvertently and became the face of a debate over the national anthem. Fueled by comments made by President Donald Trump, players across the league participated in protests, but the Steelers, by edict of their head coach, were to show unity in some form or another.
They voted to stay in the locker room, but Villanueva was given the go-ahead to take whatever action he saw fit as an Army veteran. The team did not actually stay in the locker room, but were rather in the tunnel. In the end, the intention was to be behind them, but they got separated with the on-field pre-game ceremony personnel and equipment getting in the way.
So the photo-op began, with Villanueva seemingly defiantly displaying his patriotism with his teammates behind him as a backdrop, almost appearing oppositional. The Steelers later acknowledged the entire anthem situation was a distraction, and they lost that game.
But the good news is that the team did improve, as did Villanueva, and he once again came on strong at the end of the season, though I don’t believe he played as well as he did a year ago. In large part due to his newfound notoriety, he did make it to the Pro Bowl.
He is now heading into his fourth season in the NFL as a rostered player, and there is no reason to believe that he cannot still continue to grow. He has the physical and mental skills to further his craft, and the teacher to help him do it.