The Pittsburgh Steelers had a fair amount of changes to theit roster from 2020 to the 2021 NFL season. With more than 20 free agents once the new league year hit in March, the Steelers had to decide who they would try to bring back and who they would let go.
One of the players many Steelers fans thought it was time to move on from was long-time starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva took over the starting role at left tackle in the middle of the 2015 season and has started every game for the Steelers since. Many believe his play had declined over the last couple of years, but Villanueva was still the highest ranked offensive lineman on the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020 according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, Villanueva was the second-highest ranked offensive player for the Steelers of anyone who met the minimum snap requirements, only behind Chase Claypool.
The Steelers chose to move on from Villanueva this offseason, but there were reports the Steelers were still in talks to bring their left tackle back to Pittsburgh on another contract. Ultimately, Villanueva signed with the Baltimore Ravens just after the deadline to count towards the compensatory formula for the 2022 NFL draft. Villanueva’s two year, $14 million contract is set to be his largest per season of his career.
When hearing about Villanueva‘s situation in Baltimore, many Steelers fans have a response of “good luck.” Expected to make the change from left tackle to right tackle, Villanueva is known much more is a pass blocker but is moving into a run-first offense. Some believe this is a recipe for disaster for the Ravens, but only time will tell.
But what if it is it?
What if Villanueva thrives in Baltimore? What if he fits in well at right tackle and becomes a run blocker unlike anything Steelers fans had seen in Pittsburgh?
If Villanueva can get back to his Pro Bowl form from several seasons ago, it won’t look good for the Steelers organization. Whether it be the fact the Steelers let Villanueva go to soon, or may have not properly used him to his strengths, seeing Big Al thrive on a different team would be a hard pill to swallow.
Of course, it may not be the best idea to be too difficult on the Steelers offensive line as former coach Shaun Sarrett was let go in the offseason and Adrian Klemm was promoted to take over the job. If Villanueva wasn’t properly utilized by the Steelers, it’s more on the old regime than the current one.
Additionally, there may have been some truth behind the Steelers wanting to keep yVillanueva in 2021. Perhaps Big Al took the opportunity to get as much money as he could in his limited years he has remaining in the NFL and simply didn’t like what the Steelers had to offer.
On the other hand, perhaps the Steelers had no interest in Villanueva. Perhaps they knew he was moving past his prime and could not adapt his run blocking to best fit what the Steelers were hoping to improve in 2021. If this is the case, then a division rival just completely overpaid for a former Steeler who, as history often indicates, doesn’t live up to the production they saw in the Steel City.
Whichever way it works out, only time will tell. But add in that Villanueva will now have to face T.J. Watt twice in 2021 should he be the starting right tackle of the Baltimore Ravens, we should be able to see exactly what Steelers let walk out the door.