Player: Alejandro Villanueva
Experience: 6 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2020 Salary Cap Hit: $8,390,000
2020 Season Breakdown:
The 2020 season was not his best, but it also certainly was not the worst for veteran left tackle Alejandro Villanueva for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who in truth had probably a pretty representative season for himself—which was a lot better than I have seen many try to suggest.
While it is true that Villanueva had a couple of standout poor games this past year, particularly against the Cincinnati Bengals—and Carl Lawson is just the kind of edge rusher that has always given him problems—he was also probably their most consistent player along the offensive line.
His pass protection remained above average, despite a couple of ‘valley’ performances, but as far as his run-blocking is concerned, it’s never been his strength. Run blocking more so than in pass protection is about leverage, and that’s just hard to do when you’re 6’9”. He can run block, but he’s rarely going to dominate a rep, especially against a quality opponent.
What he will do is protect your franchise quarterback, and that is what you want out of a left tackle. That is what the Steelers have had out of him over the course of the past six years, helping to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright a lot more often than he was before Villanueva entered the starting lineup.
Free Agency Outlook:
As you almost surely know the story, Villanueva was a late bloomer, and didn’t make a 53-man roster for the first time in his career until his age-26 season. A former undrafted free agent, he did stints of active duty overseas, sometimes in combat zones, where he was decorated, in between failed attempts to make rosters.
It is this background that led him to wanting to get an early deal, and he signed a four-year, $24 million contract as a rare exclusive rights free agent heading into the 2017 season, after which he would make the Pro Bowl each of the next two years.
Villanueva is going to turn 33 years old in September. That is not too old for a team to pay top dollar for a quality left tackle, and somebody is going to pay him that, and it’s not going to be the Steelers, because they simply don’t have the salary cap space to swing that.
While he’s obviously not going to sign a deal of great length, expect him to find a landing spot earning probably somewhere around $14-15 million per season over two or three years, and a nice chunk of that is going to be guaranteed.
After that, he can retire and move on to his life’s work, and if you have learned anything about him in the seven years he’s been with the Steelers (including on the practice squad for one year), then you should know that there’s a lot more to him, and to his future, than being a football player.