The Ravens have agreed to a two-year deal with free agent Alejandro Villanueva, the team announced Tuesday, finding a potential replacement right tackle just 11 days after they traded away Pro Bowl starter Orlando Brown Jr.
The contract is reportedly worth $14 million, with $8 million fully guaranteed.
The 6-foot-9, 320-pound Villanueva, who turns 33 in September, started 90 straight games for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2015 to 2020. After not signing during the early waves of free agency, he visited the Ravens last month, just before they sent Brown and two draft picks to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for four picks, including No. 31 overall.
But general manager Eric DeCosta took wide receiver Rashod Bateman and edge rusher Odafe Oweh with his Day 1 picks, and none of his six other selections was an offensive tackle. Asked Saturday whether he foresaw the Ravens addressing their depth at the position after the draft, DeCosta said, “We don’t have to play games until September,” an acknowledgment that more moves were possible.
“We’re confident that we’ll have a right tackle,” DeCosta said. “We’ll have a strong offensive line. The best guys are going to play. We have great competition, and we’ll be ready to play when the time comes.”
The timing was right Tuesday. On Monday afternoon, the NFL’s window for compensatory picks closed, allowing teams to sign free agents without affecting the league’s formula for calculating compensatory selections. With Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue having left Baltimore this offseason for big-money deals with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively, the Ravens are expected to receive an additional two fourth-round picks in 2022.
Villanueva’s signing, then, helps the Ravens’ roster in the short and long term. Like guard Kevin Zeitler, whom the Ravens signed in March after he was released by the New York Giants, Villanueva is not expected to cost the Ravens a compensatory pick. And according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just three sacks on 724 pass-blocking snaps last season, a better rate than Brown in 2020. He also didn’t miss an offensive snap, playing a team-high 1,100.
But Villanueva’s role in Baltimore could be almost as different as, well, left and right. Even with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley recovering from a season-ending ankle injury, Villanueva is expected to compete for the vacant right tackle job with Tyre Phillips, who started at both right guard and right tackle as a rookie. Andre Smith, 34, who opted out of last season, is the team’s only other lineman with significant experience at tackle.
Villanueva, who protected Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side for six seasons in Pittsburgh, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2017 and 2018, has little experience elsewhere. According to Sports Info Solutions, he has played just nine snaps at right tackle since 2015 — three in 2019 and six in 2020, none as a pass blocker. Switching sides can be challenging for linemen, who have to reorient themselves and tweak their footwork in their new role.
“I’m right-hand dominant,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, a former NFL offensive lineman, said in an interview in February. “I can make a left-handed layup, but not as good as I can a right-handed layup. All the things that you try to do — whether you’re trying to learn something like put a fork in your left hand and try to eat, you can see how hungry you’re going to be at the end of your meal.”