Though Mike Hilton is an exclusive rights free agent, tendered by the team prior to the offseason, he’s angling for a long-term deal. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, he may take a similar plan as Alejandro Villanueva. Still attending workouts as good faith to reaching a bigger payday.
Contract situation to watch in Pittsburgh: After two productive years, slot corner Mike Hilton plans to wait to sign his ERFA tender while exploring a new deal, per source. One of team's best tacklers won't miss offseason work, though. Similar approach to Al Villanueva in '17
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 20, 2019
As a ERFA, other teams can’t come in and compete with the Steelers tender. Either he signs the tender, one that’ll make him $645,000 in 2019, work out a long-term deal, or sit out. Obviously, that last possibility isn’t being considered but Hilton wants to be paid like the starter he’s been, the team’s nickel corner for the past two seasons.
It’s certainly an interesting situation to watch. From Pittsburgh’s side, they can keep Hilton for dirt-cheap this year and have him as a restricted free agent in 2020. The tender then will still make him a discounted starter; in 2019, the original round tender is $2.025 million and the second round tender $3.095 million. Those numbers increase each year but still wouldn’t occupy significant cap space.
Or they can offer a long-term deal for that’s certain to be team friendly, just as Villanueva’s four year, $24 million contract looks compared to other tackles who hit the open market.
The situation is made murkier by the way the team used – or didn’t – Hilton at the end of last year. He lost out on playing time to Cam Sutton, Pittsburgh barely ran any 2-4-5 nickel (three snaps over the final three weeks) and in Week 17, their nickel defense involved a third safety, not a third corner. Overall, Hilton has played very well in his Steelers’ career but it’s fair to wonder if the team believes he’s a long-term option based on the personnel decisions they’ve made.
Last year, he played in 15 games, recording one sack and picking off one pass. Signed to a futures contract in early 2017, he surprised most with a great training camp and by Week Two of ’17, became the full-time nickel player. In his career, he has three picks and five sacks, including a three sack game against the Houston Texans two years ago. He became the first corner to do that in a single game since sacks became official in 1982.