Even though he is only entering his third season in the NFL as an exclusive rights free agent, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton is hoping to land a new contract this offseason after seeing Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva do the same thing two offseasons ago.
Pro Football Focus believes the Steelers would be wise to do it, calling him “a top tier slot corner who deserves to be paid as such” in a recent article about him.
“The Steelers wanted to sign Hilton to a tender worth $645,000 over one year, but the two sides are reportedly aiming to get a longer-term deal done. And if Hilton continues to lock down his opponents, that figure will surely balloon for upcoming seasons”, Ben Cooper writes. “Hilton isn’t perfect — his 2018 season was far less convincing than his standout 2017 campaign — but good slot defenders are hard to come by, and the Steelers are fortunate enough to have one”.
As Cooper mentions, Hilton’s 2018 season was less spectacular than his NFL debut, during which he recorded a pair of interceptions and had four sacks. He only had one apiece last year, and his work in coverage was less convincing as well.
But he was also limited by a Week Three elbow injury that he recently admitted affected him throughout the season. He estimated that he was playing at roughly 80 percent after that, and he also cited that incident as helping influence his decision to put on several pounds of muscle this offseason.
One interesting thing that Cooper notes that of his three touchdowns that he has surrendered in his career, two of them have come in situations in which the defense was able to match him up on the outside, which he has only done on 15 snaps over the course of his two-year career.
Even Hilton said that he feels most comfortable in the slot and pretty much implied that he knows that is where he belongs, but it’s not as though there are not some excellent, top-quality slot receivers in the NFL. And he has had success when covering them. Cooper mentions work against Jarvis Landry, Keenan Allen, and Michael Thomas as evidence of his ability as a top-level slot defender.
The hope is that Hilton’s slight drop in performance last year can be chalked up largely to the injury that he suffered, perhaps with a bit of the rest of the league catching up to him as well after flying under the radar in 2017.
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers handle Hilton’s contract status. Frankly, it still doesn’t seem likely to me, as the team doesn’t really even have the cap situation for it. They already have to make another move or two later in the offseason just to get through the year. Villanueva, as I’ve previously written, had a much better case for getting a new deal rather than an exclusive rights tender.