The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Among the restricted free agents, Matt Feiler is more important to retain than Mike Hilton.
Explanation: As we get closer and closer to the start of the new league year, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Steelers will have a very difficult time doing business as usual due to their salary cap situation and the demands of a franchise tag for an edge rusher. That could result in them being forced to make choices between players as to whom to retain and whom to let go. Feiler and Hilton are both starters who are restricted free agents.
Matt Feiler plays over 1000 snaps per season if he is to be a starting lineman. Mike Hilton plays 600-750 in any given year. Unlike Hilton, Feiler also has some position versatility, which may be very valuable this particular offseason.
Retaining Feiler ensures that you have either a starting right tackle or a starting left guard, depending upon what happens with Ramon Foster and B.J. Finney. If they lose both, Feiler can move to guard and have other more worth candidates compete at right tackle.
Hilton is a very good slot cornerback when he is at his best, but the team has options there too, most notably Cameron Sutton, whom they played over Hilton in the nickel occasionally in passing situations last season.
If the Steelers are able to retain one of either Foster or Finney, when Feiler’s retention becomes somewhat less important than it would otherwise be, since you would still, at least likely, have the options of Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner, even Derwin Gray, to compete at the starting right tackle spot.
There’s also the fact, which can’t be ignored, that the Steelers have a much better track record of drafting and developing linemen than they do cornerbacks. Four fifths of their starting secondary came from other teams, only one of those four having not been a starter. Of their linemen, three were originally acquired by the Steelers, and the other two were never on a roster before making Pittsburgh’s.
Aside from that, Hilton is a better slot cornerback than Feiler is a right tackle. In fact, Hilton is one of the best and most versatile slot defenders in the NFL. Realistically, he should be receiving a long-term contract instead of a tender, if they could afford it. Meanwhile, Feiler is already 28.