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: The Steelers will sign Mike Hilton to a contract extension before the regular season begins.
Explanation: For the second consecutive year, Mike Hilton is looking for a contract extension. This year, however, makes much more sense than a year ago, since he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. However, with the uncertainty of the salary cap, bigger fish to fry, and current and future commitments in the secondary, keeping him on a significant deal may be a luxury they can’t afford.
There are few nickel cornerbacks in the NFL who are as complete a player as Mike Hilton, who can play above the line in coverage, in run defense, and even in coming after the passer. He has been frequently recognized by venues like Pro Football Focus as an undervalued player.
And even when he does get paid, it will still probably come at an affordable rate. The Baltmore Ravens may have given Tavon Young a three-year, $25.8 million extension (more than the Steelers paid for Steven Nelson), but it’s hard to see Hilton commanding that. That deal shouldn’t be taken as having reset the nickel cornerback market, although it is an indication of how its value has rightfully evolved in recent years as another starting position.
Joe Haden is already making $11 million a year. Steven Nelson is making $8.5 million a year, and will be due for an extension next year. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s huge deal will be due in 2022. We don’t know yet what will happen with Terrell Edmunds.
That’s a lot of money to throw into the secondary, and ignores the potential of Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne. While Hilton is certainly a good player deserving to be paid, it may make more sense for another team than it does for the Steelers in their current configuration.
And with the need to work on an extension for Cameron Heyward (Bud Dupree’s situation will be decided by the middle of July, so that’s not an issue), it’s fair to say that his status is secondary in comparison.