The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers should give Mike Hilton the contract extension that he is looking for.
Explanation: As a third-year cornerback who was released from his original rookie deal, Hilton is an exclusive rights free agent, which means that, as a player offered a tender, he only has the option to play for the Steelers or not play at all. The team could choose to give him a new contract, however, for which there is precedent.
As mentioned in the explanation, precedent plays a big role in this discussion. The Steelers just gave Alejandro Villanueva a new contract over four years in 2017 when he was an exclusive rights free agent. That seemed to play out pretty well.
Relative to their positions, you certainly can’t say that Villanueva did a much better job through his first two years than did Hilton, as he has been something of a revelation in the slot for them, and one of their better defenders.
Signing a player to a contract now, even though it doesn’t have to be done, tends to yield a better deal for the organization, as Villanueva’s did, in the long run. And Hilton is coming off a year in which he was hindered by an injury, so there’s reason to believe he can be even better.
No matter how much better he might realistically get, however, it’s not clear that Hilton is the comfortable answer for the slot defender position for the long term. In fact, it might soon enough be Steven Nelson, if they can develop another cornerback such as Justin Layne.
The Steelers are high on Layne, so it would be wiser to take a wait and see approach. With Nelson in-house, Hilton is not their only option in the slot, and his size has been an issue at times.
Aside from that, it’s hard to justify a new contract right now given their salary cap situation. There’s no need to be adding to it even more. Hilton has already been here working. He’s not going to storm out without a new contract and is willing to wait until next year, when they still don’t really have to give him a new deal as a restricted free agent.