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 re-sign Mike Hilton.
Explanation: Four-year veteran cornerback Mike Hilton is about to hit the open market, a fact about which he is rather excited, and rightfully so. He is going to be paid rather well for his services, with the only major question being, for whom?
The Steelers might not have a ton of cap space, but they do have some options to clear up room, and that does include releasing. If it meant the difference between keeping Mike Hilton and losing him, how safe do you feel Vince Williams’ roster spot is? And realistically, the $3 million or so they would save against the cap with such a move truly could be the difference.
Pittsburgh values Hilton a lot. When he missed four games last season, they literally changed their defense just to replicate what he does, breaking in a four-outside linebacker package to try to get the run defense up to snuff. How many slot defenders commands that kind of changeover in run defense when they’re not on the field? One?
His ability to be anywhere and do anything is second to none. Seven interceptions, 30 tackles for loss, 10 sacks over the course of his four-year career. That is a pretty uncommon stat line. In fact, it’s unique over the past four years. You don’t just find another Mike Hilton.
You may not easily find another slot defender who does everything Hilton does, but you do have to pay to get the one that’s out there, and he’s been waiting to be paid for a couple of years now. And he’s ready. He already hired Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. No doubt his agent sees ‘resetting the slot cornerback market’ when he looks at Hilton.
And while it’s true that the Steelers may have made some modifications to account for his absence, it’s also true that they have had the opportunity to get him under contract early, and they passed it up. Even when he was a restricted free agent last year, they could have given him a long-term extension. They didn’t.
Just like B.J. Finney last year, they knew they had Matt Feiler, and now they know they have Cameron Sutton—or at least a cheaper free agent alternative. The latter will obviously be cheaper to re-sign, and one can certainly argue that he is the better coverage player, while also having the ability to play outside.