The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers should allow Alejandro Villanueva to play out his contract.
Explanation: A former Army Ranger who failed multiple times to even get a spot on a 90-man roster, Alejandro Villanueva did not play a single snap in a regular season game until the age of 27. That is why it was so important for him to get a contract as soon as possible, prior to the start of the 2017 season. 2020 will be the final year of his contract, during which he will turn 32.
The Steelers knew the situation when they signed him to a four-year contract in 2017. He was already turning 29 early that season. Both they and Villanueva knew this could be the only time he gets to make bank, because his career took so long to get going. It was a long time before he even had a fixed position. At one point, the man played wide receiver.
Villanueva made the Pro Bowl twice since signing his contract, though his first honor was dubious, based in no small part from the notoriety he inadvertently received for standing at attention during the National Anthem before a game at a controversial moment around the country. He ended up having one of the top-50 best-selling jerseys that year, the only offensive lineman that year…maybe the only ever, for all I know.
His best season came a year later, in 2018, but 2019 wasn’t quite as successful. And now, the team has three young (or youngish) tackles in Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, and Zach Banner. Feiler is a restricted free agent this year and needs to be paid. Banner will be unrestricted next year.
There’s a good chance two of these three are starting in 2021. Maybe even all three if Feiler kicks inside. At the very least, it’s worth letting 2020 play out before committing money.
None of these players have played meaningfully or particularly well at left tackle. Because Villanueva has been a rock. He has played every single snap in three of the past four years, and has never missed a game, rarely ever missing time.
All three of these players are better suited to the right side. And tackles play deeper into their 30s these days than ever before. The Los Angeles Rams and Andrew Whitworth are still going, and he’s going to be 39.
Villanueva is a good left tackle. It’s not easy to find a good one, let alone one who never misses time. It’s entirely possible he still has two contract extensions ahead of him. And signing him now would be cheaper than when he has an opportunity to hit the open market next year.