Two years ago, Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva earned a new contract from the team as he was entering his third season. Not a contract extension, because he had no rookie deal. He was an exclusive rights free agent, a tender that he never signed. He was given $24 million over four years.
Now, cornerback Mike Hilton is hoping to get a new contract this summer as an exclusive rights free agent, and he admitted that he has talked to Villanueva a number of times about his own situation from two years ago.
“I can’t say if it’s better to sign now or later. But betting on yourself, in this business, usually works”, Villanueva told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.
In reality, Villanueva could have earned more for himself—possibly much more—had he waited. He is entering his fifth season now, and could have been an unrestricted free agent. He is coming off two consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, and though he is 30 years old, he could have easily commanded an eight-figure salary.
But who can predict that you’ll ever get that far? Villanueva has been fortunate to have had very good health since entering the league, hardly ever missing even a single snap, but that can change in an instant.
When he was going through his own contract situation, he tried to make it as little about himself as possible. He showed up to every offseason activity and went about his business, only declining to talk to reporters in the early stages of the proceedings because he didn’t want to talk about the business side of football.
Hilton is taking the same approach, and likely based largely on Villanueva’s advice and example. He saw what handling his business the way he did got him. And he also knows that the left tackle will be due for an extension in 2020, able to cash in again—another, less obvious advantage of signing early.
“You don’t want to have a guy in the locker room who’s not happy with his contract, especially when he has the backing of his teammates”, Fowler quoted the tackle as saying. “He’s been about it the right way. He’s shown up every single day, not making it a big deal. For that, he gets a lot of respect from all of us”.
Will he get rewarded with a new contract in the next few months? I think it’s still up in the air as to whether or not it gets done. I don’t think it will be a priority relative to other things that still need to happen, but if there is an opportunity to resolve the situation in an affordable way, then something could develop.