It is fairly common knowledge that when it comes to knowing the intimate details of each team, national sports writers tend to be lacking in accuracy. Some of them might be pretty good at what they do in terms of having a general overview of the game and the landscape of the league as a whole, but ask them to dissect the minutiae of, for example, a team’s front office tendencies, and they’re simply not going to have the familiarity with the subject.
Frankly, that’s the first thing that came to mind when I came across an article from former NFL quarterback-turned-journalist David Carr for the league’s website, in which he seeks to identify the pending offensive free agent from each AFC playoff team that they can’t afford to lose—and he picked left tackle Alejandro Villanueva for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Surprised James Conner or JuJu Smith-Schuster aren’t in this space? Let me explain. Conner has had trouble staying on the field, and even when he was out there this past season, the fourth-year back ranked 25th in yards per rush (4.27) among RBs with at least 125 carries. The Steelers need to seriously reevaluate their entire rushing attack after finishing last in the league in yards per game (84.4). Kevin Colbert and the Steelers’ scouting department routinely find great talent and value at wide receiver in the draft, so it’s possible Pittsburgh moves on from JuJu, hands the WR1 keys over to Chase Claypool and selects a wideout in the second or third round.
Villanueva, however, has been a staple on the offensive line for years. I know Villanueva is closer to the finish than the start of his career (he’ll be 33 by Week 1), and struggled at times last season (especially against the Bengals), but he’s still a savvy, reliable bookend tackle. He hasn’t missed a single game during the last five seasons and his familiarity and physicality will be critical to Ben Roethlisberger’s success if the QB returns for an 18th season. Plus, I think Villanueva and the Steelers could work out a reasonable contract that satisfies both player and team.
For starters, I doubt anybody is surprised that Conner wasn’t chosen. As far as Smith-Schuster goes, there’s a reason the Steelers draft a wide receiver every year. But while it’s true that Villanueva has been a staple of the offensive line, it’s also true that they don’t have the money to pay for a franchise left tackle, so there’s really no value in putting his name here.
You can’t list a player a team can’t afford to keep as a player they can’t afford to let go. A more realistic answer would have been somebody like Matt Feiler, who should be affordable and would help fill the void that Villanueva leaves.