Contrary to what reports throughout the offseason seemed to indicate, former Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva confirmed on Wednesday during his introductory press conference with the Baltimore Ravens that the Steelers never had any intentions of bringing him back this year.
“Pittsburgh has always been a class-act organization and they let me know that I was not coming back to the team very shortly after the season,” he said, when answering a question about whether or not it was weird to go from one rival to the other, and if he anticipated being signed after he visited Baltimore prior to the draft.
This flies in the face of reports that were gathered in March and even April. Many beat writers seemed to anticipate that Villanueva, as his market seemingly dwindled, would ultimately wind back in Pittsburgh. I believe Aditi Kinkhabwala, John Clayton, and perhaps Ed Bouchette were among the group offering that suggestion.
There was also a report that the Steelers were attempting to discourage Villanueva from selling his property in the area, with the obvious implication being that he would still need it because he was going to be staying in Pittsburgh.
But these things wouldn’t have happened if the Steelers really let him know shortly after the 2021 season ended — all the way back in January, mind you — that they were not going to be bringing them back, presumably for salary cap reasons.
And it’s worth keeping in mind that the salary cap ended up coming in at much less than many were expecting or hoping back then. While the Steelers always said all along that they were working with whatever the minimum was at the time, they no doubt also had an awareness that the final number would be north of $175 million.
Villanueva earned $24 million from the Steelers over the course of the past four years, after signing a new deal with the team in 2017 while he was still an exclusive rights free agent. He just signed a two-year deal with the Ravens to play right tackle in place of Orlando Brown Jr., which slightly boosts his APY.
I really have no reason to believe that Villanueva is inaccurate in his saying that the team informed him early on in the process that he would not be brought back. That doesn’t mean that these reporters were just making things up, but perhaps not everybody in the organization was aware of what had been communicated to the player.
Villanueva spent the past seven seasons, including one year on the practice squad, with the Steelers, earning two Pro Bowls during that time. He started the past 90 games, hardly ever missing a snap, ultimately logging 6,123 during his time in Pittsburgh since 2015. He last missed a snap in 2017.