The Steelers have a number of key contributors set to hit free agency this offseason, but one analyst sees a surprising candidate as a “must keep” for Pittsburgh.
Carr cites Villanueva’s “familiarity and longevity” as reasons why Pittsburgh should retain the 32-year-old, further describing him as “a savvy, reliable bookend tackle.”
Carr does concede that Villanueva’s age and struggles last season are of concern, but believes his experience and availability are too crucial for the Steelers to let him walk. 2020 was not exactly a glowing performance for Villanueva and the Steelers offensive line. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was rarely sacked, he did not hold the ball long enough for the unit to be consistently tested, likely by design. Pittsburgh was brutal in the run game, boasting the league’s worst rushing attack a season ago. They averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.
Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, is beloved in Pittsburgh, but that will have no bearing on the tough decisions facing the Steelers over the coming weeks and months.
They have one of the most dire salary cap situations in all of football, and may have to part ways with additional fan favorites, such as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner. The Steelers will likely prioritize the resigning of cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. Hilton has become a staple of Pittsburgh’s defense and turned into one of the best slot corners in football, while Sutton has been strong in a similar role.
Given all those factors and the other crucial free agents the Steelers could prioritize resigning, it is becoming increasingly unlikely Villanueva will be back in Pittsburgh next year.