Alejandro Villanueva

Extra Points: Redskins, Reed, Gruden, Texans, Fuller

The latest from around the NFL:

  • Redskins coach Jay Gruden says “nothing earth-shattering” came from Jordan Reed‘s visit to see a specialist on his toe (Twitter link via Mike Jones of The Washington Post). The team is not publicly discussing Reed’s timetable for a return, but if the comment is to be taken at face value, then that could be an overall good sign for the tight end.
  • Jon Gruden is looking to slow down talk of a return to coaching. “I don’t foresee myself coaching again anytime soon,” the former Super Bowl-winning coach and current color commentator said (Twitter link via Roy Cummings of FanRag Sports). Comments by Gruden back in July seemed to hint at different plans.
  • Texans wide receiver Will Fuller broke his collarbone during practice on Wednesday, sources tell Adam Schefter and Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com (on Twitter). At this time, there is no timetable for Fuller’s recovery. Fuller, the team’s 2016 first round pick, is expected to reprise his role as a deep threat to take defensive pressure off of DeAndre Hopkins. If he misses significant time, it could be a major setback for the Houston offense. Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong can be expected to see increased roles if Fuller is out, but the Texans could also look into adding additional depth.
  • Dolphins seventh round wide receiver Isaiah Ford has suffered a setback that may end up costing him a spot on the 53-man roster. Ford has meniscus damage that will require surgery, Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald writes, and depending on the extent of the tear, he’ll either miss the remainder of training camp or potentially the entire season. Lately, Ford has been gaining traction as a backup possibility in the slot.
  • Alejandro Villanueva‘s new four-year, $24MM deal with the Steelers has base salaries of $1.5MM, $3MM, $5MM, and $5MM, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The remaining $9.5MM in the deal comes in the form of signing and roster bonuses.

Steelers, Villanueva Agree To Extension

Alejandro Villanueva has himself a new deal. The Steelers offensive tackle has agreed to a fresh four-year deal with the Steelers, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Alejandro Villanueva (Vertical)

The four-year deal is worth $24MM, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter), with $14MM over the first two years. It’s a big step up considering that he was slated for a $615K salary this year as an exclusive rights free agent, but it’s still a team-friendly deal on the whole when considering Villanueva’s talent level. The top ten tackles in the league are making five figures per year and Villanueva effectively added three seasons at an average of $7.8MM. Villanueva may not be a top ten talent at the position, but he’s not far off and he’s just entering his prime years. The tackle turns 29 in September.

Villanueva waited to sign his ERFA tender this offseason in hopes that he could hammer out a long-term extension with Pittsburgh instead. Even though he wasn’t eligible to reach the open market until 2018, the Steelers opted to do right by one of its most important offensive linemen while also securing him for years to come.

Since debuting in 2015, Villanueva has appeared in 32 straight games, including 26 starts. He started every Steelers game last year and was the only member of its offense to play on all 1,083 of the unit’s snaps.

Last year, he was the 24th best offensive tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Steelers, Colts, Bolts

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.

AFC Notes: Steelers, Jets, Cousins, Texans

Having not yet signed his exclusive rights free agent tender, Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva training camp status is in question, writes Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Villanueva signed a waiver that enabled him to participate in voluntary practices during the spring, but he indicated at the time that he’ll follow his agent’s advice regarding camp. With that in mind, the former Army Ranger captain could sit out if his representative, Jason Bernstein, suggests it. As Fittipaldo points out, though, Villanueva doesn’t have much leverage and will have no recourse but to play for the ERFA tender amount ($615K) if the Steelers don’t take it upon themselves to award him a raise. Unfortunately for the O-line stalwart, he won’t be eligible to cash in as an unrestricted free agent until after the 2018 season, when he’ll already be 30 years old.

More from the AFC:

  • “It’s hard to argue with” the idea that the Jets are tanking “when everybody else sees all the stuff that’s going on,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa admitted on Sunday (via Zach Braziller of the New York Post). Whether the Jets actually are tanking is debatable, but it’s clear they’re rebuilding. The team has released a slew of veterans, including receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, since last season. When healthy, those two were above Enunwa on the team’s depth chart. Enunwa is now the Jets’ clear-cut No. 1 option, having broken out as a third-year man in 2016 with 58 receptions, 814 yards and four touchdowns.
  • With Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty as the Jets’ choices under center, Enunwa seems unlikely to benefit from high-end quarterback play this year. But with the Redskins unable to lock up Kirk Cousins beyond the upcoming season, that could change in 2018. The Jets will have upward of $80MM in cap space next offseason, which could make them a suitor for Cousins if he becomes a free agent, notes Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. However, considering Cousins will be entering his age-30 season in 2018, Cimini doesn’t see him as a fit for the young Jets.
  • Texans running back D’Onta Foreman has a July 31 court date in Texas stemming from his arrest this past weekend on misdemeanor drug and gun charges, but a postponement is likely, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Foreman will be out of state then with the Texans, who begin training camp in West Virginia on July 25.

Extra Points: Seahawks, Villanueva, Jaguars

The Seahawks made several changes to their offensive line this summer, adding free agents Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi and drafting second-rounder Ethan Pocic. While offensive line coach Tom Cable is generally bullish about this unit prior to training camp, he was especially happy with the organization’s offseason additions.

“I’d like to get to camp, but I’m the most excited coach on the staff right now,” Cable told ESPN.com’s Sheil Kapadia. “That’s what I’ve told coach [Pete Carroll] and John [Schneider, Seahawks general manager]. I appreciate them putting this together in a year’s time and doing a fantastic job. Our personnel guys nailed this, so it’s just a matter of getting them in the right spots and going and playing ball.”

Let’s take a look at some other notes from around the NFL…

  • Following news that Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had been holding a grudge against both quarterback Russell Wilson and Carroll over the past two seasons, the veteran was quick to dismiss the story. “He asked a few questions to a few cowardly people,” Sherman said of USA Today writer Seth Wickersham (via, ironically, Liz Mathews of USA Today). “And I’ll be calling you cowards if you’re afraid to put your name on it. If you have a comment, if you’ve got something to say, you’ve got something to ask or something and you’re not willing to put your name on it, you’re kind of a coward. But maybe they’re not cowards and maybe these people never existed. Because who knows? You don’t even have to exist. You don’t have to prove anything in this world anymore…And that’s what I mean when I say there are a lot of TMZ-like media going on because guys like this — nobody is going to ever question him if they come to find out, hey, he could have fabricated this whole story and, I mean, outside of him saying there was an interaction at practice, none of the rest of it was true. But heck, what did he have to lose? I think it’s really unfortunate that’s it’s come to that.”
  • Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is currently without a contract ahead of the Steelers upcoming mandatory minicamp. When asked by ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler whether he’ll be in attendance, the 28-year-old indicated that he might be willing to hold out. “I’m obviously trying to be a Steeler but it’s something that my agent and the front office will work to sort out,” said Villanueva. The former Army standout didn’t sign his ERFA tender this offseason, although he did ink a waiver/agreement that allowed him to participate in OTAs.
  • Jaguars safety Peyton Thompson has been cut six times during his career, including twice by Jacksonville. However, considering the injuries to the team’s secondary, Ryan O’Halloran of Jacksonville.com believes the 26-year-old finally has a chance to earn a more significant defensive role. The former undrafted free agent has played in 30 games for the Jaguars over the past two seasons, compiling 27 tackles.

North Notes: Steelers, Davis, Stafford, Pack

Despite Alejandro Villanueva continuing to attend Steelers OTAs, the left tackle and the team are still not on the same page regarding his contract, Bob Labriola of Steelers.com notes. Using a situation one-time Pittsburgh ERFA Willie Parker found himself in several years ago as a comparison, the Steelers writer advocates that Villanueva take what the team is offering to get some more money upfront. As an ERFA, Villanueva can make just $540K this season on the tender he hasn’t signed. But as a two-year starter for the Steelers, the former Army Ranger is obviously worth more than that. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk argues Villanueva should not accept a Steelers lowball offer and withhold his services this summer until the team submits a viable proposal. Nothing’s come out on what kind of deal the team has offered. The sides have talked since at least February on this pact, so this has reached impasse status.

Villanueva is a rare 28-year-old ERFA, and under the terms of his initial NFL contract, the would-be third-year starter won’t be able to become an unrestricted free agent until he’s 30 in 2019. Labriola notes Parker signed a three-year, $13.6MM deal to stay in Pittsburgh in the summer of 2006. As the going rate for linemen continues to rise as teams’ ability to develop them out of college becomes more difficult, Villanueva would have considerable value on the market. But his current circumstances could force him to make a decision soon.

Here’s the latest coming out of the North divisions.

  • The common view around the league, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, is the Lions will make Matthew Stafford the league’s highest-paid quarterback by summer’s end. One NFL source said last month Stafford will wait for Derek Carr to sign his extension first and work off of that, and Birkett noting Stafford’s better body of work compared to the younger Carr puts him in a position to wait and command more money.
  • Demario Davis did not have the speed the Browns wanted at their linebacker position, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes. The Browns traded their incumbent No. 1 middle linebacker to the Jets in exchange for Calvin Pryor. Davis is returning to the Jets and their 3-4 scheme. Cleveland is pivoting back to a 4-3 after hiring Gregg Williams, and while the Browns installed Davis as their primary middle ‘backer and moved 2016 breakout performer Christian Kirksey to the weak side, the team plans to use Kirksey and Jamie Collins in its nickel sets. As for the starting middle linebacker in the base alignment, the Browns may first turn to Tank Carder for now, per Pluto. Carder has been with the Browns for six years but has worked as a backup throughout that time.
  • We heard earlier the Browns are considering using a 4-2-5 nickel-type look more frequently to help Jabrill Peppers — often a linebacker at Michigan — and Pluto notes the team does plan to bring a large dose of nickel sets this season. While the league has already gravitated toward passing-down sub-packages as offenses have spread out more in recent years, the Browns would seem to have personnel that fits better with this alignment. Especially after the team signed Jason McCourty to join Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor.
  • Punter Jake Schum cleared waivers and will be transferred back to the Packers‘ IR list, according to the Associated Press. The Packers cut Schum earlier this week after he served as the punter last season in all 19 Green Bay games. It’s unclear what injury Schum sustained. UDFA Justin Vogel is the only punter on the team’s roster, but the Packers didn’t acquire Schum until August after using a waiver claim on him.

North Rumors: Browns, Villanueva, Vikings

Ryan Grigson will be working on a much lower level with the Browns than he did during his five seasons as the Colts’ GM, but his new employer wants to get the longtime exec back to what he’s believed to do best. The Browns are going to deploy Grigson as a “super scout” of sorts, with Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporting the team believes that is Grigson’s biggest strength. Grigson worked as an NFL scout with the Rams and Eagles from 1999-2009 before becoming Philadelphia’s director of player personnel in 2010. Pluto notes the 45-year-old Grigson will scout pro and college players and travel to schools to gauge talent in his new role, one that will feature him reporting to former Colts subordinate Andrew Berry.

Here’s more out of Cleveland and some other northern NFL cities.

  • The Browns’ contract talks with Isaiah Crowell have stalled for the time being, per Pluto. But the Browns are expected to revisit discussions about an extension for their starting running back “at some point.” Crowell signed his second-round RFA tender earlier this month and as his contract year approaches is in position for a possible career campaign. The Browns devoted considerable resources to upgrading their offensive line this offseason, signing Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter, and extending Joel Bitonio. Crowell averaged 4.8 yards per carry, rushing for 952 on a 1-15 team, so the 24-year-old back could be in line to enhance his value with a strong 2017.
  • Returning Browns tackles leader Christian Kirksey also profiles as player the team wants to extend, Pluto notes, hearing extension talks between the team and the linebacker are progressing. The former third-round pick is moving from inside linebacker in Cleveland’s 3-4 look to the 4-3 weak-side ‘backer, but he should retain a three-down role alongside Jamie Collins. Kirksey’s 143 stops last season were nearly 50 more than the second-best Browns tackler, and the emerging player is entering a contract year.
  • Alejandro Villanueva hasn’t signed his Steelers ERFA tender yet. As it stands now, Pittsburgh’s left tackle starter would be paid $615K this season. Villanueva profiles as an interesting case, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, noting the 28-year-old former Army Ranger is attending Carnegie-Mellon business school and could have options if an NFL career doesn’t unfold to his liking. Fowler also notes the Steelers won’t be keen on giving Villanueva more than high-end right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who makes $6.1MM per year. While the Steelers are in commanding position here due to ERFAs’ lack of leverage, Villaneuva obviously saw the going rate for steady tackles rise this offseason. The Steelers were working to extend their third-year left tackle starter in February, but Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the sides aren’t progressing on an extension. Gilbert believes Villanueva is “very deserving” of a new deal.
  • Jerick McKinnon has largely been forgotten in the Vikings‘ backfield competition this offseason, but the fourth-year back remains on the roster and has added some weight to his lighter (for an NFL running back) frame. The 5-foot-9 McKinnon bulked up to 211 pounds from 200 this offseason, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. That said, the Vikes signed Latavius Murray and used a second-round pick on Dalvin Cook. It’s likely McKinnon — a former college quarterback — will be the No. 3 back.

Extra Points: Bills, Clay, Floyd, Vikings

Charles Clay has a chronic knee problem and Bills coach Sean McDermott is worried.

We are concerned with Charles’ knee situation,” McDermott said (via Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News). “It’s something we have to manage moving forward in order to have him on the field for us, which is important moving forward. He’s a weapon for us.”

Clay came to Buffalo as a highly-paid restricted free agent in 2015 and they’re hoping that his knee will sort itself out in the long run. The deal calls for him to carry a $9MM cap number in each of the next three seasons and there’s not much of an escape hatch if his performance declines. The Bills cannot save money by releasing him until they get to 2019 and even then, they’d only recoup $4.5MM in cap room.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • There is no guaranteed money in Michael Floyd‘s one-year, $1.41MM deal with the Vikings, Ben Goessling of ESPN.com tweets. In theory, Minnesota could cut Floyd before the season without financial penalty. On the flipside, Floyd’s deal could reportedly pay as much as $6MM if he reaches all of his incentives.
  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn’t committed to having a fullback, as Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun tweets. Today in practice, Lorenzo Taliaferro was taking some reps at the position today along with undrafted free agent Ricky Ortiz. The decision of whether to utilize a fullback may impact the final makeup of Baltimore’s roster. The Ravens have five high-profile running backs on the roster in Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Javorious Allen, Taliaferro, and Kenneth Dixon. Dixon is facing a four-game suspension to start the year.
  • The Bills have named Terrance Gray college scouting director, per a club announcement. Gray spent the past eleven years in Minnesota’s scouting department.
  • Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva hasn’t signed exclusive rights free agent tender, per NFLPA records, which means he signed a waiver in order to be on field for OTAs (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com). Back in February, it was reported that the Steelers are working to extend the lineman. For now, the ERFA is slated to play out the 2017 season for just $540K. Last year, he was the 24th best offensive tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

Steelers Working To Extend Alejandro Villanueva

Given that it ranked second in adjusted line yards and third in adjusted sack rate, the Steelers’ offensive line finished the 2016 season as one of the league’s best units, and the club now wants to extend a key member of that front five. Pittsburgh is interested in hammering out an long-term deal with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, reports Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.Alejandro Villanueva (Vertical)

[RELATED: Steelers In Talks With Antonio Brown]

Villanueva, is an exclusive right free agent, meaning he’s not able sign with any other clubs as long as the Steelers tender him an offer. Pittsburgh has been the most active thus far in the offseason in terms of re-signing its exclusive rights free agents, and the team clearly wouldn’t complain about retaining Villanueva at a one-year cost of $540K. Even after the 2017 campaign, Villanueva would only qualify as a restricted free agent, again meaning the Steelers could keep him around on the cheap.

A long-term deal, however, would not only lock up Villanueva for the foreseeable future, but reward the second-year pro for his excellent production. A former Army infantrymen, Villanueva graded as the league’s No. 24 offensive tackle in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, and has now started 26 games in two seasons with the Steelers.

As Bouchette notes, the top-10 highest-paid tackles in the league earn more than $10MM annually, but a few factors should keep Villanueva from reaching that plateau. Not only is he not quite at the elite level that would require such a salary, but he’s under team control for the next two seasons, a fact that will artificially depress his value.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Notes: Bryant, Green, Allen, Draft

The Steelers never thought about releasing wide receiver Martavis Bryant, even as he’s set to miss the 2016 as a result of a yearlong suspension, general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters, including Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune, at a press conference today. Bryant’s absence also won’t overly affect the club’s draft plans, per Colbert, who says Pittsburgh won’t feel the need to draft a replacement pass-catcher.

Let’s dive into the other highlights from Colbert’s presser…

  • The Steelers would not have pursued free agent tight Ladarius Green had Heath Miller not retired, according to Colbert, and Kaboly adds (via Twitter) that the team targeted offensive free agents because of the deep defensive draft class. Pittsburgh will “hammer” the defensive side of the ball in the draft, per Colbert.
  • Cornerback, specifically, is one area that the Steelers could address through the draft. “We can’t say we’ll take a cornerback first, second or third,” Colbert said, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But there are enough that we should be able to get one.” Pittsburgh will visit with Houston’s William Jackson III this week, tweets Dulac.
  • One reason the Steelers will target corners is the underwhelming play of Cortez Allen, who is presumably on the roster bubble — Colbert says the club is still trying to ascertain where Allen is health-wise, per Dulac (Twitter link). Head coach Mike Tomlin said last month that he’s not convinced Allen is an impact player.
  • Free agent signee Ryan Harris will battle with incumbent Alejandro Villanueva to act as the Steelers’ starting left tackle, writes Kaboly.
  • The Steelers might not be done in free agency, and could still add another player via the open market, per Kaboly.