There are a number of players that the Pittsburgh Steelers realistically should be approaching for a contract extension as they move the process forward to Latrobe in a couple of weeks’ time. Those players specifically are Joe Haden and Javon Hargrave. You can also give consideration to Sean Davis, especially considering they don’t exactly have another free safety.
With all due respect to Mike Hilton, a third-year player who is an exclusive rights free agent, he is low on the priorities list, largely given the fact that his only alternative to signing his exclusive rights tender is simply to not play this year.
Hilton wants a new contract, and deservedly so for showing his ability to establish himself as the slot defender over the past two seasons. He is a versatile defender who makes an impact in coverage, versus the run, and as a pass-rusher to boot. He is a good player, and a tough player who played most of last season through an arm injury as well.
But the realities of the business—not the game—pretty much dictate that his situation is so low on the priority list that it cannot be gotten to this year. Bob Labriola seemed to agree with me on that in an Asked and Answered segment from earlier this morning, in which he essentially said that he believes the team will not—cannot—engage in meaningful contract discussions that might actually lead anywhere.
The Steelers currently don’t have the kind of salary cap space to do anything for Hilton contractually, and Hilton himself has said he will not hold out. I see this scenario ending with Hilton reporting to Saint Vincent College and playing the 2019 season for the $645,000 mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement for a player of his experience.
Of course, two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was in an extremely similar circumstance two years ago, and the Steelers ended up completing a four-year contract with him on the eve of training camp that allowed him to participate.
Hilton has said that he sought Villanueva’s advice on the matter, but really, their situations, and the team’s situation, is distinct enough from last time that there is no reason to expect a similar outcome. It’s much more realistic that the cornerback will have to wait until next offseason as a restricted free agent to get his new deal.