Player: Mike Hilton
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights
2018 Salary Cap Hit: $555,000
2018 Season Breakdown:
The Pittsburgh Steelers had Mike Hilton fall into their lap when they were in desperate need of talent at the cornerback position, entering the 2017 season as the starting nickelback and retaining that job since then…at least for the most part.
There was a moment late in the 2018 season in which the Steelers, as they were facing mounting losses, threatened Hilton’s job security by having Cameron Sutton work in that position, but when the game actually rolled around, it was mostly Hilton keeping his spot.
While he didn’t have as strong of a season overall as he did in 2017, Hilton was still one of the team’s better defenders, and one of their most complete players as well.
The numbers don’t necessarily bear it out, but he still had a decent year as a blitzer, and actually got a hand on more passes. He continued to register among the highest totals of run stops among cornerbacks as well.
Hilton’s biggest challenge throughout his career has been overcoming his height against players who are frequently considerably taller than him. The Steelers challenge him to cover tight ends who often have a height advantage of nearly a foot.
He doesn’t win every battle, but he has won enough to keep himself locked right where he is. And the thing is, at least based on the way that the roster is currently shaping up for 2019, the Steelers will more or less be depending upon him to continue to play at the level he has shown or better, because they can’t afford to regress in that area.
Free Agency Outlook:
Reportedly, the Steelers have already signed three of their exclusive rights free agents, but Hilton has as of yet not been among them. Zach Banner, Jordan Dangerfield, and Kameron Canaday are said to already be under contract, but a number others remain unsigned. There is no rush, of course, though those moves should come soon.
Hilton was a former undrafted free agent and had been released by his original team, wiping out his contract. He has since operated on one-year deals, but I don’t think he has played at a level, or plays a position, that would have the team considering giving him some sort of extension.
He should be tendered as an exclusive rights free agent and will play out the 2019 season in that manner. If he plays at a high level, then he may receive a more long-term deal in 2020 as a restricted free agent.