If the thought the free agent wide receiver market was slow, the tackle market seems to be even slower. Included on that list of free agent tackles is Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So far, Villanueva seems to have received very little attention in free agency as the first Sunday of the 2021 league year starts to wind down.
As far as the free agent tackle market as a whole goes right now, Trent Williams is the only one to not receive the franchise tag that has signed for big money so far in free agency. He signed a six-year, $138.06 million contract with the 49ers. Williams has $45.1 million in guarantees of which $40.1 million is guaranteed at signing.
So, what does this mean for Villanueva so far? We’ll, it’s obviously not likely great news for him as far as his market value goes. With the cold free agency receptions that Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster just received fresh on the mind, Villanueva might also be headed for a one-year deal with a team as well and well below his projected market value.
As durable and reliable that Villanueva has been so far in his NFL career with the Steelers, which essentially dates back to the 2015 season, he will turn 33 years of age no long after the 2021 season gets underway. With the overall free agency market down this year due to fallout from the pandemic and due to Villanueva being older, teams are probably hesitant to give the former Army captain a lucrative long-term contract right now.
What’s Villanueva’s market value right now and is there a chance he re-signs with the Steelers? I would venture to guess that Villanueva’s market value might be around $9 million right now, just a million more than Smith-Schuster got from the Steelers. As for the possibility that Villanueva might re-sign with the Steelers, I suppose it could happen and especially if the team were willing to give out another deal that includes four voidable years attached.
If the Steelers did give Villanueva a one-year, $9 million deal with four voidable years attached, the lowest the tackle’s 2021 salary cap charge could be is $2.66 million. Such a contract would set the team up to have a dead money charge of $6,34 million, however. Additionally, the Steelers don’t have enough salary cap space right now to afford a lowly $2.66 million cap charge on Villanueva until they get cornerback Steven Nelson gone, unless there’s a restructure out there we don’t know about.
As far as experienced tackles go right now for the Steelers, the team has Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor both under contract for 2021 and they are expected to announce the signing of Joe Haeg soon as well. Haeg, however, while experienced, is more of an eligible sixth offensive lineman, however. Behind those three players the Steelers have a few young an inexperienced tackle types in Anthony Coyle, Aviante Collins, Brandon Walton, Jarron Jones, and John Leglue. Of that group, Coyle might be the best of the lot.
While the Steelers are expected to select a tackle at some point in this year’s draft, having Villanueva back for one more year at less than $10 million wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world that could happen this offseason. Additionally, I bet Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would like Villanueva back for what might be his own final season in the NFL as well.
It’s hard to tell how Villanueva’s first experience with unrestricted free agency will ultimately play out but it seems all but certain he won’t sniff $15 million per season. The longer he also remains unsigned probably makes the more likely he ends up re-signing with the Steelers. Stay tuned.