It shouldn’t come as a shock but notable nonetheless. Mike Hilton, as expected, reported for Phase One of the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason. Hilton has yet to sign his exclusive rights tender and reportedly angling for a long-term deal with the team. Jeremy Fowler reported as much last month.
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
But Hilton posted this photo on Instagram showing him in the weight room, confirming he did report.
Hilton reporting is the smart play, following the footsteps of Alejandro Villanueva, who was rewarded with a 4 year, $24 million deal in July 2017, right before training camp kicked off. A long-term contract will certainly pay him more than the $645,000 his tender is set to payout but any deal will absolutely be team-friendly, just as Villanueva’s has proven to be. His contract is just the 22nd highest among all left tackles.
Of course, reporting for offseason workouts while not under contract creates an inherent, albeit small, risk should he suffer an injury in the process. It’s unclear if the Steelers are as excited about the prospects of a long-term deal. Hilton lost playing time towards the end of 2018 and if the team uses their “big” 3-3-5 nickel, employing a safety as the 5th defensive back, slot corners will have less value.
It’s clear no decision will be made by the team until after the draft and more likely, shortly before camp begins. Pittsburgh has brought in several top corners and should they walk away with someone like Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy, or Justin Layne, Hilton’s role moving forward will be that much more difficult to figure out. He’s played well, a diamond in the rough, but if the team has soured on him, that’s all that matters.
In 31 games over the past two seasons, Hilton has 111 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions. The three sacks he recorded in one game against the Houston Texans in 2017 is an NFL record for a corner.