Five weeks from tomorrow the Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Saint Vincent College for the start of their 2019 training camp and thus will begin the annual watch for which players might ultimately sign new contracts prior to the start of the regular season. The list of prospective players who could feasible sign new contracts before the regular season gets underway includes cornerback Joe Haden, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, center/guard B.J. Finney, safety Sean Davis and cornerback Mike Hilton. As for the last player on that list, Hilton, speculation seems to be growing that he’ll not ultimately sign a contract extension this offseason.
During his weekly online chat Wednesday morning, longtime Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was asked if he thinks Hilton will ultimately sign a contract extension later this summer and he indicated that he doesn’t see such a transaction occurring.
“No I don’t,” Dulac wrote. “I do not see the Steelers giving a new contract to a player who they knew had problems in coverage last season. And not sure if he plans to report or not.”
Overall, Dulac’s speculation about Hilton’s summer contractual situation is fair. After all, Hilton, who signed originally with the Steelers as a member of their practice squad in December of 2016, has only played two full seasons with the team on his way to registering 121 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 5 sacks in a little more than 1,350 total defensive snaps played. Also, while Hilton’s play last season wasn’t awful by any stretch, it seemingly wasn’t as good as it was during the 2017 regular season.
According to coverage stats kept by Sports Info Solutions, Hilton was targeted 58 total times last season and he allowed 36 completions for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns while intercepting one pass, which had been previously deflected at the line of scrimmage. He was, however, credited last season with 8 defensed passes and two dropped interceptions. As for his 2017 season, Hilton was targeted 39 times in total and allowed 25 receptions for 186 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He was also credited with 2 dropped interceptions that season and 4 defensed passes to go along with 3 pass deflections.
Also keep in mind that Hilton is a nickel cornerback and thus he’s not going to be an every-down player like tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who parlayed the exclusive rights tender he received from the Steelers a few offseasons ago into a long-term contract extension upon his arrival for the start of training camp that year. While Hilton is attempting to follow Villanueva’s past path step-by-step, that path could ultimately and quite easily have a different ending.
What Hilton might now be looking for in the way of a new money average and fully guaranteed money might also play a huge part in whether or not he ultimately gets a new contract from the Steelers later this summer. In fact, if he expects to get anything close to what the Indianapolis Colts just gave to their young slot cornerback, Kenny Moore, he can forget about it. According to former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now writes for CBS Sports, Moore’s new extension he just signed included $9 million fully guaranteed of which $8 million is a 2019 roster bonus. While Moore’s new extension reportedly didn’t include a signing bonus, according to what Corry told me on Wednesday, his new money average comes in at $8.325 million.
The Steelers currently have less than one million in available salary space for the 2019 season and while that number will surely grow by several million between now and the start of the regular season, any new deal signed by Hilton, should he get one, would increase his currently scheduled salary cap charge by at least a million and maybe more, depending on the amount of the signing bonus. While that’s not a huge hindrance in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one other tiny detail that needs to be considered.
While Dulac stated during his Wednesday chat that he’s unsure if Hilton plans to report for the start of training camp on time, it’s hard to imagine the former undrafted free agent out of Mississippi not being at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe alongside the rest of teammates five weeks from tomorrow. Assuming he does indeed show up on time, him then finally signing his exclusive rights tender he received back in February in the amount of $645,000 will probably take place soon thereafter. By the way, and for whatever it’s worth, last week Hilton said that the thought of him holding out at the start of training camp is something that’s never crossed his mind.
Personally, Hilton might be best-served to just play out his 2019 season for $645,000 and hope it’s his best one to date. If that’s what ultimately happens the Steelers would then likely have no choice but to issue him a second-round restricted tender next February, or risk losing him to another team during free agency. The amount of such tender is already speculated to be $3.278 million.
It certainly will be interesting to see how Hilton’s situation ultimately plays out this summer. However, with not too many past Steelers players being able to turn offseason exclusive rights tenders into contract extensions that same summer, and combined with a few other players more likely to sign contract extensions during the month of August, don’t be surprised if Dulac’s speculation about Hilton’s immediate future winds up being right on the money.