It certainly seems that with each passing week, Mike Hilton is making more and more money for himself when he hits unrestricted free agency in March—money that it may be very difficult, if not unreasonable, for the Pittsburgh Steelers to be able to swing for themselves relative to their salary cap situation.
Through three games this season, the fourth-year cornerback already has a team-leading 21 tackles, including four tackles for loss, among them two sacks. He also has an interception, three passes defensed, and a fumble recovery, and is so far the only player on the team with multiple takeaways.
For two years now, Hilton has been seeking a long-term contract from the Steelers, first as an exclusive rights free agent in 2018, after watching them give Alejandro Villanueva a new deal under those terms, and then this year as a restricted rights free agent.
Of course, money was a much bigger issue this year, and they also allowed starting offensive lineman Matt Feiler play this year under a restricted free agent tender. It will be difficult to retain either one of them, to say the least. But that’s no reason to stop appreciating what they offer while they are here.
Mike Tomlin was among those showing him appreciation in speaking to the media on Tuesday yesterday, saying that he wasn’t at all surprised that he is leading the team in tackles through three games, though he said that’s also been based on opponents and situations.
“It’s just kind of the nature of some of the games we have played schematically and the offensive personnel groups that those teams choose to employ”, he said. “Looking at the Tennessee Titans, he might not get those types of opportunities to be quite honest with you and that is just how it goes and that is why we’re are a team and a unit”.
“That is why we will continually write that story over the course of the season”, he added. “If we are having that discussion at the end of the season or the ladder portions of the season, then that is probably a significant story. But on a three-game body of work, I’m not surprised by anything at this juncture to be honest with you”.
Since he entered the league, only Jamal Adams has been more productive from the secondary against the run or at a blitzer, and Adams is an every-down player, whereas Hilton will play about 600-650 snaps per season.
Especially with the team’s rise this year, with a chance to make a playoff push, it’s hard to see him going under the radar in free agency. Somebody is going to pay him what he deserves, I have little doubt of that in my mind, even considering the impending salary cap crunch around the league.