The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have to decide this offseason, quite literally, how invested they are in the business of Mike Hilton, their third-year slot cornerback. Despite being an exclusive rights free agent, he is hoping to earn himself a new contract, similar to how they worked out a new deal for Alejandro Villanueva two years ago.
Originally signed to the practice squad late in the 2016 season, Hilton opened 2017 as their slot cornerback and he hasn’t looked back since, three interceptions and five sacks later, among other statistics. His well-rounded game, including work against the run, has won him a lot of fans, including in the front office.
And both parties expect him to continue to grow as he navigates his fourth offseason. He sees the results himself.
“The game definitely slowed down for me”, he told the team’s website recently. “It’s big. You are starting to see things easier. You are starting to make reads easier. When the game slows down more plays are out there for you to make. I think I improved there this past year”.
Hilton has not made a ton of plays on the ball so far in his career in terms of turning the ball over or forcing incompletions, but he has been pretty consistent in getting the receiver down after the catch. If he can make his reads that much faster, he can become even more of a playmaker, something the defense is sorely lacking.
“The more you play, the more you see, the more it all slows down”, he went on to say. “You’re able to break down plays and routes. It gives you a better opportunity to make plays on the ball. Through OTAs and minicamp, I have been making plays”.
Of course, we heard about him making plays as early as OTAs of 2017, so that’s not necessarily anything new. There were the signs of him developing into a good football player already two years ago. He has simply continued to develop since then.
The Steelers have to decide where they feel his ceiling is, because that will help to determine whether or not it makes sense to get something done with him now or force him to play the year out. He has already said that the idea of holding out never even crossed his mind, so it’s not as though he is expecting to protest if he doesn’t get a new deal this year.