For as good as a team might draft in the early rounds, there is almost always a need for the organization to find some diamonds in the rough. The Pittsburgh Steelers, frankly, used to have a few more than they do now, but there are still a number of quality contributors on the roster among late-round picks and college free agents.
One of them is Mike Hilton, who wasn’t even one of their own original signings. The Ole Miss cornerback—a former teammate of Senquez Golson—first signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He made it through the preseason but did not make the final cuts in 2016. He would spend a short time on the New England Patriots’ practice squad before finishing his rookie year on the Steelers’ squad.
It was a steady progression uphill from there, showing well in OTAs and then demonstrating his complete skill set in coverage, against the run, blitzing, and on special teams during the preseason. That performance gave him the opportunity to open the season starting in the nickel, and he hasn’t given up the job since.
Now entering his third season, however, following two pretty strong years of play, he is looking for a new contract and, as a result, has elected not to sign his exclusive rights tender. While he is looking for what he feels he deserves, however, he has treated it as strictly business, for one reason more than any other.
“I want to be a part of this team”, he told the team’s website back during mandatory minicamp. “I want to help bring the Steelers a championship. The Steelers are a historical organization. I love it here. I want to stay as long as possible. I am trying to show everybody I want to be here”.
Truth be told, he doesn’t really have any alternatives outside of the XFL right now. Because the Steelers’ exclusive rights tender remains outstanding, the only thing that he can do other than sign it, if the team chooses not to offer him a long-term contract, is to not play.
Nevertheless, I will take him at his word that he truly wants to be with the Steelers for the long haul. It has worked out well for him so far, all things considered. He has seemingly found his niche in the defense, with a coaching staff that is willing and able to use him to play to his strengths, which includes a well-rounded repertoire.
Hilton is a valuable piece in the defense, make no mistake about that. The question is simply how valuable he is, if that value justifies paying in early, and if there are any prospects of a legitimate alternative on the horizon.
Alejandro Villanueva had more favorable answers to those questions when the Steelers had to ask them for themselves before giving him a long-term deal in the summer of 2017. If Hilton loves the Steelers, he may have to show it by being patient and waiting until next year. Or even 2021.