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2021 Offseason Questions: Would Keeping Villanueva Take Tackle Off The Board For 1st Round?

Alejandro Villanueva

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Would re-signing Alejandro Villanueva take tackle off of the board for the first round for the Steelers?

The longer a player remains on the open market, especially under conditions such as these, it seems as though it becomes increasingly likely that he ends up returning to his former team. We could see that happen with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the Pittsburgh Steelers as we head into the third week of free agency.

Should that happen, the Steelers would retain their top three tackles from last season, with Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor competing to start at right tackle. Banner won the job last season but was injured in the opener. The loser would serve as the swing tackle.

If they do re-sign Villanueva, it will probably be on a one-year deal, however, and Okorafor will also be an unrestricted free agent in 2022, so tackle would still be a need a year from now. General manager Kevin Colbert has called this a deep draft class for tackles, so that could break either way. If a really good one falls to them in the first round, do they pass? Alternatively, they would be more likely to find a good one in later rounds.

Hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time at the age of 32, it doesn’t appear as though Villanueva has found a very robust market, though there really hasn’t been one for offensive linemen, with many re-signing with their former teams—a theme at every position.

While the Steelers had been cash-strapped, the recent release of Steven Nelson and the restructure of Eric Ebron have given them some cushion that could allow them to sign Villanueva to a deal similar to that signed by JuJu Smith-Schuster—a one-year contract with four years.

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