It could potentially be an interesting offseason for fourth-year defensive back Mike Hilton, who is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, having originally joined the Pittsburgh Steelers as a street free agent. He was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2016, and spent that season on the practice squads of the New England Patriots and then the Steelers.
Hilton emerged as the team’s top nickel back by the start of the next season, and he has largely retained that post without interruption over the course of the past three years. During that span, he has recorded 186 tackles, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, 25 passes defensed, six and a half sacks, and 22 tackles for loss.
In many ways, he is the prototype of what the Steelers would look for in a nickel defender. He is strong against the run and a good threat to blitz as well. While he has some physical limitations due to his height, he is about as well-rounded a player as you will find in that role. And he has embraced that Pittsburgh identity for himself.
“I would love to be here. I’ve said that before, and they know it”, the told Chris Adamski earlier this offseason for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “As far as fit, I feel like I am your definition of Pittsburgh Steeler. I am a grinder, nothing comes easy. So I would love to spend the rest of my career here, and I am hoping things work out”.
That could still happen no matter what transpires this offseason, but it’s far from a shoe-in for him to receive a long-term extension in 2020. He was looking for a long-term deal in 2019 as an exclusive rights free agent, but the Steelers never showed interest in such negotiations, which should not have been surprising.
It is obviously more realistic for them to negotiate a deal for him as a restricted rights free agent as opposed to an exclusive rights free agent, but provided that they are comfortable with the security of a second-round restricted free agent tender to lock him in for 2020 at over $3 million, it may be a situation they choose to kick down the road yet again.
That said, I think there is far more consensus about who he is as a player, and how he fits within the Steelers’ culture, but with respect to the locker room and the fan base. He quickly became a fan favorite, though support dropped some due to some struggles in his second year. He rebounded pretty nicely in 2019, and hopefully bodes well for the future.