In an offseason in which a number of tough personnel decisions had to be made by General Manager Kevin Colbert and the Pittsburgh Steelers, losing veteran starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to the Baltimore Ravens might be the biggest offseason regret for the franchise, according to Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox.
Rather than listing the loss of Bud Dupree to the Tennessee Titans or Mike Hilton within the division to the Cincinnati Bengals, Knox went with the loss of Villanueva to the rival Ravens in his piece detailing the biggest offseason regret for each team in the NFL.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, considering Hilton and Dupree were undoubtedly bigger losses when it comes to the Steelers’ chances of competing in 2021, but Knox had this to say about the loss of Villanueva to the Ravens.
“While Pittsburgh likely couldn’t have avoided the offseason retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers may regret losing longtime left tackle Alejandro Villanueva,” Knox writes. “Villanueva, a two-time Pro Bowler, hadn’t missed a start in the last five seasons. He played 100 percent of the offensive snaps in four of those five campaigns—including 2020—and has played at a consistently solid level. He was responsible for only three sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus. While the Steelers were in a tight cap situation entering the offseason—they have $7.9 million in space—Villanueva signed a team-friendly deal with the rival Ravens. He’ll carry a cap hit of just $4.8 million.
“Landing Villanueva was big for Baltimore, which traded starting tackle Orlando Brown to Kansas City. So, by letting him go, Pittsburgh lost a franchise centerpiece and a divisional foe strengthened itself. That’s a lose-lose development just about any way you slice it.”
Sure, it’s a loss losing a left tackle who was consistently on the field protecting the quarterback’s blindside, but Knox is overlooking the fact that Villanueva had clearly regressed from both a pass protection and run blocking perspective. With the Steelers looking to be more physical up front in the run game, Colbert and the Steelers knew that the long-time left tackle with the incredible backstory simply didn’t fit the style the team was looking to transition to.
While he allowed just three sacks last season, Villanueva posted his worst pass blocking grade since the 2017 season and had the third-worst run blocking grade of his career. At this point, Villanueva is getting by on reputation alone, which is fine, but stating that losing him is a big regret for the Steelers this offseason is a bit of a reach by Knox.
Add in the fact that — on paper — Villanueva does not appear to be a fit for the Ravens, it makes Knox’s take appear worse. Villanueva not only heads to Baltimore to play in a run-first offense (nowhere near a strength of his), but he also projects as a right tackle, which is way out of position for him. Playing right tackle means Villanueva likely matches up with T.J. Watt twice a year, which is a win-win for the Steelers.
We’ll obviously see how it plays out in 2021, but by going younger and getting more athletic at left tackle, and also avoiding paying an aging veteran based on reputation, feels like a win-win for the Steelers.