If there are any Pittsburgh Steelers not participating in the team’s first OTA practices of 2019 this week the list of those players is very short. While OTAs are voluntary in nature, player’s participation in them is highly encouraged just the same and especially for younger players that might be looking for new contracts, such as Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton, who technically isn’t even under contract with the team right now.
Hilton, in case you forgot, was issued an exclusive rights free agent tender ahead of the start of the new league year in March and he chose not to sign it in hopes that he would eventually be able to sign a more lucrative contract later in the summer. While Hilton chose not to sign that tender, he did let it be known a few months ago that he would still participate in all of the Steelers offseason program as a good faith measure and he has lived up to that promise to date.
“No, not yet,” Hilton said Wednesday of still not signing the tender he received this offseason from the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But that’s why I am here. I want to be here and I want to show them I want to be part of this group for as long as possible. So, when that (contract) time comes around, hopefully things work out.”
Technically, Hilton really doesn’t have much bargaining power when it comes to his exclusive rights tender and a new deal as he can’t receive offers from other teams due to NFL rules. That said, Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva chose not to sign his exclusive rights tender a few offseasons ago and he ultimately signed a four year contract worth $24 million with the Steelers right at the start of the team’s 2017 training camp.
Will Hilton ultimately get a new deal from the Steelers by the time the team’s first preseason game kicks off in August? It’s hard to know for sure if he will judging by what he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday.
“It’s up in the air; that’s something my agent, I will discuss it with him,” Hilton said. “(The Steelers) know I want to be here – and I’m trying to show all the signs I want to be here.”
Hilton, in case you missed the news from well over a year ago, is now represented by Drew Rosenhaus. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as Hilton’s value is his value and his current situation isn’t a great one for his agent to bargain with. In short, Hilton’s maximum earnings the next two seasons are essentially capped at what his exclusive rights tender amount is this year, $645,000, and whatever the second-round restricted tender amount is next offseason. which is roughly $3.5 million. That roughly $4.2 million in total over the course of the next two years is the high side and assumes that Hilton plays well enough in 2019 under the exclusive rights tender to warrant the Steelers giving him a second-round restricted tender next offseason.
While Hilton has played well in the slot for the Steelers since originally arriving in Pittsburgh in December of 2016 as a practice squad player, the overall quality of his play did slip a little bit last season. In total, Hilton played nearly 600 total defensive snaps in 2018 on his way to registering 57 total tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception in addition to 8 total pass breakups.
If the Steelers do ultimately decide to sign Hilton to a longer and more lucrative contract this offseason, such a deal won’t likely be consummated until after training camp gets underway. Currently, the Steelers only have $1,152,846 in available salary cap space as of Wednesday’s NFLPA update and they still have to get their last unsigned draft pick, cornerback Justin Layne, inked. A new deal for Hilton would result in a cap charge larger than his current $645,000 tender placeholder, so you can see why no new deal would appear to be on the immediate horizon. Hilton is likely aiming for a deal that averages around $3 million a season, and if so, that might be a little too rich for the Steelers.
Should Hilton ultimately not get a new deal from the Steelers this offseason, he’ll have to sign his exclusive rights tender and then move on from there. In the meantime and until we know more about a possible new contract for the Steelers nickel cornerback, expect Hilton to continue showing up for all OTA practices and also being on time for the start of training camp in late July. After all, his good faith is all he has as a bargaining chip this offseason.