Under different salary cap circumstances, perhaps things would have been different. As they are, the Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision early on that they would not retain left tackle Alejandro Villanueva as he hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career.
He landed in Baltimore, where he figures to be the Ravens’ replacement for Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., after they traded him earlier this offseason at his request. While it is an adjustment for him to move to the other side of the field, head coach John Harbaugh likes what he’s seen from the rebuilt right side of his offensive line—along with right guard Kevin Zeitler.
“They’re all ball, all the time – both of those guys”, he said of Villanueva and Zeitler. “Whether it’s meeting room, weight room, conditioning, on the field work – they’re all ball, all the time. I love that about them. I think they’re going to be a formidable tandem on the right side. I’m really pleased with them so far”.
Villanueva has been the Steelers’ primary starting left tackle for the past six seasons. He went to the Pro Bowl during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, in his first two years after signing a four-year, $24 million contract extension while he was still an exclusive rights free agent.
He was actually 25 years old, about to turn 26, when he first came to the Steelers in 2014, having played defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles during the preseason. After Philadelphia cut him, he spent that year on the practice squad re-learning the offensive line, where he played some in college (in addition to end, and even wide receiver).
A year later, with Mike Adams dealing with a back injury all year, he won the swing tackle job, but had to take over at left tackle six games into the year after Kelvin Beachum suffered a torn ACL. Beachum would leave in free agency the following year, and Villanueva held the job for the remainder of his Steelers career.
This offseason, following some decline in performance, he had to wait until after the draft before signing a two-year, $14 million contract with the Ravens, though they’ve since also signed Ja’Wuan James, a player best known for the Denver Broncos releasing him after suffering an injury training on his own.
James might possibly be ready to play by the end of this season, but the deal was more about 2022. Even then, he would at least have to contend for a starting role with Villanueva, also still under contract by that point.