Many Motivations Driving Steelers’ Desire To Get Deal Done With Villanueva

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not typically the sort of team to go out of their way to give out more lucrative deals to players than they have to at the time, but they do make exceptions from time to time. They did so for Antonio Brown back when he signed his first extension as they work on his second now.

They made an exception last season for Vince Williams. While he was entering the final year of his rookie deal, after which he would have been scheduled to hit free agency, he is not a starter, and it is rare—exceptional—for them to work out an exception for a player who is not a starter.

To do so says a lot about what they think of not just the player, but also the person. And that is likely what is behind the team’s reported interest in working out a long-term extension for starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, in spite of the fact that he is only entering his third season and is an exclusive rights free agent. They hold his rights on the cheap for the 2017 season and are under no obligation to dole out cash because there’s nothing any other team can do about it.

But Villanueva has not only rapidly ascended into a player who can become a top-10 player at one of the most important positions in the game, he has consistently been an absolutely wonderful ambassador for the Steelers’ brand, for the game itself, for veterans, and for just about anything else you can associate with him.

The decorated war veteran is just the sort of face the franchise would like to have represent them, so there are always business motivations in the mix, but you can no doubt rest assured that they also want to reward him for what he has gone through and what he has achieved for them.

A worthy consideration in the equation is the fact that Villanueva’s atypical path to the NFL has him much further along the standard chronological timeline than most NFL players, as he tried and failed to make a team multiple times and served stints overseas in between.

The Steelers first brought him in as a 25-year-old when he was signed to their practice squad in 2014. He turned 26 just weeks later, and became the team’s starter at 27 several weeks into the 2015 season. Villanueva is going to turn 29 already on the 22nd of September, so there is a very real temporal incentive to get a deal done now.

If the Steelers sign Villanueva to a long-term contract now, they will be getting his best possible years at the end of the life of the contract. I may be completely off-base in my reasoning, but I am compelled to believe that that is a factor in the decision here to want to get him secured for at least the next few years, even when they can have him reasonably affordably through his age-31 season.

Plus, of course, they won’t have to worry about him getting any better and raising his price tag even higher, and risk facing potential bidders next offseason when he will be a restricted free agent. And with the significant rise in the cap every year, a player’s salary demands only travel in one direction.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Bradys_Dad

    In an era where there is far too often ugly news about players in the media, Alejandro provides that reminder that there are good men are out there. Men of substance and dignity. Men who are more than just ball players. This organization is lucky to have him and when young men want to look to someone as role model they need look no further. Hoo-rah my brother.

  • capehouse

    I think it’s just the Steelers placing a bet and spending some money now and trying to save it down the road. Just like they did with Willie Parker in 2006. Plus he’s severely underpaid in terms of production, which really is saying the same thing. Not for one second do I think the Steelers care about public perception and that Villanueva’s background has anything to do with this. This is a business decision. Don’t forget we signed Mike Vick 2 years ago.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I’m a proponent of locking up guys you want if you can make a deal that saves you cap money over the long haul, but my endorsement of this is conditional on what the numbers are.

    I think the guy they should think about locking up is Shazier. He is going to cost at least $10M in his 5th year and I can see him getting a contract in the $15M/yr range when he is a free agent.

  • popsiclesticks

    I’m sure players are better when morale is high and I’d think moves like this help that.

  • RGS71

    I have to imagine the leadership experience that Villanueva brings to the team is unlike that of any other NFL player. In my opinion that quality is something that is beyond both the brand and the stat sheet.

  • stan

    Not to mention that they have tremendous leverage over Villanueva right now. I believe he’s a restricted free agent after 2018 so that’s two more years before he could actually hit the free market and who knows if he’s going to get hurt or continue to see his stock rise before then. He’s a guy who needs to lock in as much guaranteed money as he can as soon as he can. The fact that he’s such a great guy to have around and is a player who can play a tough to fill position aids the Steelers’ motivation as well.

  • mem359

    I’m guessing that Beachum being available is also part of the timing.
    If they absolutely can’t get a deal done with AV (for some reason), bringing back the previous starter is a plan “B”.

  • SteelersDepot

    nothing to do with beachum. AV is an erfa. if no long term deal this offseason, he’s still going to play just for peanuts

  • stan

    That’s a tricky one. He’s a pro bowl player when healthy, but he has yet to complete a season and his value is so dependent on his athleticism that he might have a short “peak”. I’m all for signing him long-term, but maybe for fewer years than you might give other players.

  • stan

    Villanueva got a lot of money from that special “value-added” pool that the NFL has for players like him. That’s free money from the Steelers perspective because the player gets rewarded and it doesn’t count against the salary cap. Beachum got money from that pool as well.

  • capehouse

    Oh definitely. He got that after the 2015 season and he played every single snap for the offense this past year so he should get a nice sized check again.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    That’s certainly part of the calculus that would go in to determining his contract value if it were to be done now instead of next year. From his standpoint, it’s why he may take a little less in total value to have some of it guaranteed and in hand now, instead of waiting until next year, or possibly 2019.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    By giving him a nice break and more money they may get a reward. He may play for a reasonable amount later while being a stud. Just in case he plays to an age.

  • nikgreene

    Good player, great human. Love having him on the team.

    However, I have a few concerns with this. One, the misconception that because AV has gotten better he will continue to get better. While that is possible, it is also possible he has already peaked, or could have a down year in 2017. Players, even very good ones, under-perform at times (see Decastro who was a penalty machine early in the 2016 season). With that risk in mind the prudent thing to do would be sign him to his ERFA contract for 2017, and reassess next year. In 2018 they have lots of options including a first or second round tender (still pretty cheap for a starting left tackle). They could even extend him then if they like.

    Second, there is an opportunity cost to signing him to an extension now since any multi year contract will drive his cap hit up considerably leaving the team less to spend on other extensions, or to sign a mid-level free agent.

    But I guess at the end of the day in Khan and Colbert I trust, and I won’t complain if the Steelers sign AV to an affordable three year contract that expires at the end of his age 31 season.

  • Constantinople

    Amen, couldn’t have said it better. I’m damn proud to have a man like Alejandro playing on the team I root for.

  • The Big Cheese

    All four services have takes on “hoo-____”. Don’t remember who uses what for sure anymore, but ‘hoo-uh’, ‘hoo-ah’, ‘hoo-rah’ and ‘hoo-ya’ are all used. I’m retired AF, and ours was “hoo-us?’ (that’s a joke, a gallows humor common one in the AF tactical arena if your butt was on the line)

  • Bradys_Dad

    Been there and done that and made it home. I suppose as long as we’re not saying “who-dey” all will be well. 🙂

  • NinjaMountie

    Army says Hooah. USMC is ooh-rah. Navy…I believe so don’t hold me to this…is Hoo-yah.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It does count against the salary cap. Just the following year’s cap.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That’s a fair point too. Villanueva might take the perspective that he’s already going to be 29 and might not be getting his chance to hit his money-making contract until the season in which he turns 31. He might be willing to sacrifice a bit in order to have the security now. Because really, who knows what might happen in the next two years? It’s just such an unusual occurrence to be looking at a player hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time in his age-31 season, so it’s hard to draw comparisons. Plus, Villanueva has made comments in the past that suggest that he’s not really looking to get blood from a stone.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think that Villanueva was playing as a top-10 left tackle by the end of the season, so I’ll take that. He’s still an older player with not a great deal of experience all things considered, so he’s not going to get top dollar.

  • mokhkw

    If I was playing next to a guy like AV and getting 10x the $s he is I wouldn’t feel good about it. The fair thing to do is pay him a salary that’s inline with his production.

  • Michael Putman

    This probably isn’t a good “business decision” in the short term, but I think it would ABSOLUTELY be the right decision. The fact of the matter is that AV has a much smaller window for financial gain, simply because he is older. He likely won’t get TWO big contracts in his NFL career.

    AV has grown considerably in his short time as an o-lineman. He is dependable, honorable and a great teammate and leader of men. I am so happy that he has grown into a competent left tackle for us. I LOVE his story, I LOVE his background and I LOVE that he has found success with MY Steelers! Give this man a contract!

  • The Big Cheese

    might have been a time or two when I uttered a ‘hoo-me?

  • The Big Cheese

    we-dey. Good thing most of us had more lives than the average cat.

  • Would love to see Villa just flatten Burfict sometime. That would make my season

  • Dewayne Braxton

    Just want to make sure I understand. You suggest that if VA’s deal can’t get done the Steelers should sign Jacksonville’s reject? If a team with one of the worse offensive lines in the NFL doesn’t want Beachum, well? I always thought he was one of the most overrated players of the decade.

  • mem359

    The same line of reasoning applies to when Gay was dropped by the Cardinals, or Harrison by the Bengals.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    I confess that inspite of his effective play Beachum’s for me his lack of size remained an issue. That said your rationale makes sense.

  • nutty32

    He’s only going to get better. His size-speed combo makes his upside limitless. Steelers are smart to try and get a discount while they can. If I were AV’s agent, I’d push him to wait to test the market unless the Steelers paid top dollar.

  • Ross McCorkle

    I just can’t wait for a movie about the guy in like 20 years.