Which current Pittsburgh Steelers player under contract that isn’t on a rookie deal offers the team the most bang for their buck? according to Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders in a Thursday post on espn.com, that player is none other than tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
McCown gave his reasoning why the Steelers starting left tackle has the best valued contract on the team currently:
“Villanueva came to the Steelers late because he was active-duty military, but the massive left tackle has been one of the league’s best since he took over as a UDFA in 2015. He has been rock-solid, taking almost every snap for the Steelers the past three seasons. He has blown fewer than 15 blocks in two of those three seasons. Even “solid” left tackles make more than Villanueva made on his deal with the Steelers. Cordy Glenn is making $9.25 million in 2019. D.J. Humphries is making $9.625 million. Donovan Smith is making $12.5 million. Villanueva has been better and more consistent than all three of them, and his contract has been a huge win for the Steelers.”
It’s hard to argue with McCown’s choice of Villanueva, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Steelers not long after the team had arrived at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for the 2017 training camp. The Steelers had quite a bit of leverage when it came to getting Villanueva signed to a very modest average yearly vale due to him being a tendered exclusive free agent at the time. Had Villanueva not signed a new deal during that 2017 summer, he would have earned just $615,000 that season and then would have become a candidate to receive a second-round restricted free agent tender from the Steelers in 2018 that equated to $2.914 million.
In summation, Villanueva stood to earn a little more than $3.5 over the course of 2017 and 2018 seasons. Instead, he earned $14 million in those two seasons and another $5 million this season and next season.
While Villanueva has done well for himself since entering the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 as an undrafted free agent defensive end, he’s very cognizant of the fact that he’s extremely underpaid as far as starting left tackles go. Brooke Pryor of espn.com provided some information on Villanueva’s current mindset when it comes to his contract.
“Villanueva is well aware that almost half the left tackles in the NFL are paid more than he is, but the former Army Ranger’s life experience gives him a unique perspective on his bargain contract. “For me, I know this sounds crazy, but I watch the most gory videos I can see every single morning so that I can remind myself of how lucky I am that I’m in this country,” he said. “A lot of people take for granted what it’s like to grow up in 2019 in the United States. You could be born in so many different countries, in a different era. What’s [the odds of winning] three lotteries? Once you get one, it’s kind of like …
“That’s my attitude in life, personally. But from a football standpoint, [the low contract] is extremely unfair. I want to go up to [general manager] Kevin’s [Colbert] office and steal his stapler,” the tackle joked. Villanueva is in the penultimate year of his four-year extension, signed in 2017, and it was restructured a year ago to free up more cap space. The Steelers like to keep veterans around, so it seems likely that Villanueva will be up for another payday when this contract runs out.”
With 2020 currently scheduled to be the last year of Villanueva’s contract with the Steelers, it will be interesting to see if the team ultimately signs him to a contract extension prior to the start of next year’s regular season. He’s scheduled to count $8,39 million against the 2020 salary cap while earning just 5 million. He’s also already 31 years of age and will turn 32 not too long after the 2020 regular season gets underway. It’s hard to pay older players top dollar for the position they play so that might make it hard for the two sides to come to an agreement on an extension.
For now, Villanueva still has the rest of the 2019 regular season to look forward to as he continues to extend his impressive games started streak. Monday night against the Miami Dolphins, Villanueva will make his 65th consecutive start and only four other NFL tackles, Mitchell Schwartz (119), Jake Matthews (85), Morgan Moses (71) and Donovan Smith (70), have longer current streaks.
Villanueva has started more games at left tackle than any other player has in the history of the franchise and that’s quite a remarkable accomplishment. He truly is a huge commodity for the Steelers and at an extremely great value as well.