Now that they won’t be able to extend running back Le’Veon Bell until next year, the Steelers are focusing on a new deal for left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. While there has only been “minimal movement” toward an extension, neither side wants Villanueva to miss a significant portion of the summer, reports Fowler, who notes that talks could ramp up before the Steelers open camp July 27. Given that he’s an exclusive rights free agent who won’t be able to reach the open market until after the 2018 season, Pittsburgh doesn’t have to award Villanueva a raise now. In doing so, though, the Steelers would lock up a player who has improbably become an integral part of their offense since joining the team as a practice squad player in 2014. The former Army Ranger captain debuted in 2015 and has appeared in 32 straight games, starting 26. He started each of Pittsburgh’s games last year and was the only member of its offense to play all 1,083 of the unit’s snaps. As a result, the 28-year-old is hoping for a new contract and hasn’t signed his $615K ERFA tender.
More on Pittsburgh and two other AFC franchises:
- Bell rejected a five-year offer worth roughly $60MM prior to Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term deals. One of Bell’s former Steelers teammates, retired cornerback Ike Taylor, shed some light on the star rusher’s demands Wednesday on NFL Network. According to Taylor, Bell informed him that he wants a contract that reflects his performance as both a No. 1 back and a No. 2 receiver – likely something in the neighborhood of $15MM per year (Twitter links via Mike Garafolo of NFL.com). Bell does have multiple prolific pass-catching seasons under his belt, including his 75-reception showing in 2016. Had the Steelers met his demands, Bell would’ve crushed LeSean McCoy‘s league-leading contract for RBs. The five-year, $40MM-plus deal McCoy signed with the Bills in 2015 continues to stand above the rest, though.
- Indications are that Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri wants to play at least two more seasons, reports Kevin Bowen of the team’s website. Set to turn 45 in December, Vinatieri is the league’s oldest player, but the former Patriot remains one of the game’s premier kickers. He connected on 27 of 31 tries (7 of 9 from 50-plus yards) last season, tying him for the league’s sixth-highest conversion rate (87.1 percent). Vinatieri was also one of five kickers who didn’t miss an extra point, hitting on all 44 attempts. Hanging around for two more years should enable Vinatieri to pass Hall of Famer Morten Andersen as the league’s all-time leader in both points and field goals made, Bowen points out.
- A back injury could sideline Chargers first-round wide receiver Mike Williams for his rookie season, but they should have the weaponry to survive his absence, notes Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. With Keenan Allen returning from an injury-marred 2016 to complement Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman – all three of whom were productive last year – the Bolts figure to boast a strong corps of wideouts. The Chargers also have an enviable tight end duo (Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates) and pass-catching running back Melvin Gordon, who racked up 41 receptions last season, giving quarterback Philip Rivers plenty of proven targets.