Alejandro Villanueva, who made the NFL All-Pro team twice during his six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, signed a two-year free agent contract with the Steelers’ AFC North division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
Villanueva, 32, will move from left tackle to right tackle and is expected to start for the Ravens in 2021. His new deal reportedly is for a total of $14 million.
The 6-foot-9 offensive tackle played several positions on both sides of the ball at West Point before starting his military service. Villanueva rose to the rank of captain during his Army career, served as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star for rescuing soldiers under fire.
The veteran has one of the most unusual NFL stories you’ll ever hear. After completing his service, he tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spotted him during a preseason scrimmage game. Once the Eagles cut Villanueva, Tomlin brought him to the Steelers and put him on the practice squad.
Over the next few months, the Steelers’ staff helped Villanueva add 100 pounds and bulked him up to 340. Tomlin liked his grit (proved on an actual battlefield) and taught him one of the most difficult positions in the modern pro game.
Steelers fans must hate to see a player with Villanueva’s genuine leadership skills go to a hated rival, but it’s nice to see an Army veteran get recognized for his skills and get paid for his accomplishments.
The NFL won’t release its 2021 schedule until May 12, so fans will have to wait to find out when the Steelers and Ravens will play their two division games this fall. How Villanueva fares against his old team will likely go a long way toward determining which team wins the division this year.
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