Player: Mike Hilton
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights – Re-Signed
2017 Salary Cap Hit: $555,000
2017 Season Breakdown:
I think that Mike Hilton has already become more than a few people’s favorite players on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a little over a year. Originally signed to the team’s practice squad late in 2016, he was brought back on a Reserve/Future contract and climbed his way up the ladder throughout the offseason, ending up rotating with William Gay as the starting nickel back in the opener before taking the job for the rest of the year after that.
Hilton was one of just two new starters in the secondary, joined by Joe Haden, whom they acquired via free agency, and paired with two second-year starters in Artie Burns and Sean Davis to form a starting core that was almost entirely different from the unit that they fielded as recently as 2015.
While he may have cemented his roster spot for his play on special teams during the preseason, a role that he continue to serve, albeit a bit on-and-off during the regular season, it was the seeming completeness of his repertoire on defense that turned heads, showing the ability to play the run and to rush the passer in addition to his coverage duties.
And it’s no surprise that his statistics bear that out, as he recorded 64 tackles and four sacks on the season despite being somewhat infrequently targeted. He recorded 12 stops against the run during the season, and had the highest run-stop percentage among cornerbacks with a decent number of snaps by a wide margin.
While he had a very encouraging rookie season, there are some things for him to work on, including his coverage and his tackling. There are things that he got away with in coverage that he might not be so lucky to see next year.
Free Agency Outlook:
As will quickly become obvious, not every player that we are covering in this series will have an indefinite circumstance, as, frankly, many of their futures were already predictable. As a starter with just one year of accrued experience, there was never any doubt that the Steelers would retain Mike Hilton, nor was there any doubt that they would not sign him to a long-term extension. It just would not make any sense for a player that they still control comfortable for at least another year.
Rather than sign Hilton to a Reserve/Future contract, the Steelers technically list his contract as a one-year extension, the distinction I suppose largely being semantic. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as the end result is the same. He is under contract for one more season.
As an exclusive rights free agent, the Steelers are the only team that Hilton would have been allowed to negotiate with unless Pittsburgh failed to act and allowed his contract to expire, which would have made him a ‘street’ free agent, free to sign with anybody. But obviously he is far too valuable for that to have been allowed to happen.