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Unsigned but practicing, Villanueva deserves a fair contract


Gregory Shamus

When players use the rules to their advantage in order to benefit their financial positions, fans tend to complain that the players are being selfish. When teams do it, fans tend to shrug and say, “Them’s the rules.”

And so at a time when plenty of fans are wagging fingers at players who are skipping voluntary workouts in order to leverage better financial terms in an industry where careers entail finite years and no equity, it’s fair to point out that Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has no contract but is choosing to work out with the team as he awaits a long-term deal that the team has no legal obligation to give him, but nevertheless should. It’s also fair to point out that, the website owned by the team, is trying to put the squeeze on Villaneuva to trade his 2017 exclusive-rights free agent (i.e., not a free-agent) tender for 2017 and his looming restricted free agency tender for 2018 and his shot at the open market or franchise tag in 2019 for a deal that pays him well but not nearly as well as he could be paid if he waited for a shot at the open market.

The article points to the experience of former Steelers running back Willie Parker to advocate for Villanueva taking the best deal the Steelers are willing to offer with two years to go until free agency.

“Willie Parker used the bird-in-a-hand approach and ended up earning slightly more than $14 million over six seasons in the NFL, and he got to do all of that with one team,” Bob Labriola of writes. “He left the NFL with his name on two Lombardi trophies, he is a treasured member of the Steelers’ recent past, and he still enjoys all the rights and privileges that come with that status. There is a lesson somewhere in there for Alejandro Villanueva.”

Here’s a different lesson for Villanueva -- tell the Steelers to stick it sideways. (It’s not really a lesson, but it was fun to type it.) The Steelers are trying to lowball Villanueva because they can, and they want to prey on the crappy circumstances that come from being undrafted to pay him less than he’s worth, both as a player and as a leader. The man who has appeared in every game over the past two seasons with 31 total starts should walk out and stay out until the team gives him a fair offer that rewards him for what he’s done and compensates him for what he’ll be expected to do.

Even if Villanueva sticks around, he should choose to go year to year, especially since by next year there could be a team willing to give up a late first-round pick for a chance to pry Villanueva away as a restricted free agent on a long-term deal closer to market value.

Whatever he chooses to do, Villanueva need to look out for his own interests. By not offering him the kind of deal he’s currently willing to sign and to use their in-house propaganda machine to try to pressure him to comply with a subpar deal, the Steelers are definitely looking out for theirs.