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Gil Brandt Lists Free Agent LT Alejandro Villanueva and the Colts as an ‘Intriguing Player-Team Fit’

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

According to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers free agent left tackle Alejandro Villanueva are one of his ‘seven intriguing player-team fits’:

Indianapolis Colts

Alejandro Villanueva, OT

Facing a salary-cap mess in 2021, the Steelers probably can’t afford to keep Villanueva; among their pending free agents, Zach Banner looks like a potentially less costly replacement at left tackle. The Colts, meanwhile, are in need of a left tackle, with Anthony Castonzo retiring and former No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz set to take over at quarterback. (Cam Robinson would also be appealing, but I expect Jacksonville to either re-sign him or retain him via the franchise tag.) Villanueva has started every game in the past six years and is solid in both the run game and pass protection. Indianapolis will no doubt be driven to protect its investment under center, and adding Villanueva would make a lot of sense.

The former 2010 undrafted free agent out of Army has transformed himself into a solid starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past six seasons—having been named a Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018.

He’s made 90 career starts at left tackle for Pittsburgh and is incredibly durable, as he’s started all 16 games in each of the past five seasons for the Steelers.

Per PFF (subscription), Villanueva was their 28th best graded offensive tackle this past season with a +74.9 grade overall—allowing 3.0 sacks and 43 total QB pressures in pass protection, while committing 4 total penalties collectively.

Here’s their free agent breakdown—as PFF has Villanueva as their 34th best ranked free agent overall in the 2021 class:

34. T ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA

There’s immense value in solid, mid-tier offensive linemen, and that’s exactly what Villanueva has been throughout his career. He’s graded between 74.0 and 82.0 in each of his last five seasons; he ranks in the 54th percentile in PFF pass-blocking grade and the 46th percentile in pass-blocking grade on true pass sets during that time.

There’s a similar level of dependability to Villanueva’s game as a run-blocker. He ranks in the 74th percentile at avoiding negatively graded plays but just the 23rd percentile in positively graded plays. NFL teams must avoid having disastrous options at offensive tackle, and Villanueva’s profile makes him a valuable asset.

For what it’s worth, Spotrac projects Villanueva to earn around $15-16M on his next contract for three to four seasons in duration.

The Colts no doubt have an immediate hole at starting left tackle as longtime veteran bookend Anthony Castonzo retired earlier this offseason.

That being said, given the expected price-tag and age (32) of Villanueva, it makes more sense to me for the Colts to simply draft a top rookie starting left tackle—in what’s been highly regarded as a deep class at the position, in either the first or second round—and save that cap space for making a serious run at an impact free agent pass rusher instead.

However, Villanueva would be a steadying veteran free agent starting option at left tackle for the Colts—although it’s fair to reasonably question whether he would be the most savvy allocation of the team’s salary cap space.