There will be hundreds of free agents flooding the open market on March 17th. But no one might be more excited than CB Mike Hilton. Free agency has been a long time coming for him. Working up the ladder as a UDFA who latched onto the Steelers’ practice squad and futures deal. Biding his time first as an exclusive rights free agent than as a restricted free agent last year, angling for a long-term deal but never getting it.
His time has come.
We’ve already written about Hilton literally counting down the days to free agency on social media. And in a great Sirius Interview on Movin’ The Chains with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller, Hilton said he was excited to finally get to choose where he goes.
“Man, that’s exciting,” Hilton told the show. “I know how hard I’ve been working for this opportunity. To be in the situation that I am, you know, coming from being an undrafted guy to possibly having a nice free agency this offseason, that’s obviously an exciting feeling I’m blessed to be in this position.”
Relative to the NFL, Hilton hasn’t made much money especially for someone whose been a starting nickel cornerback almost his entire Steelers’ career. Last year was his first taste of NFL money playing on the RFA tender that netted him $3.259 million last season. But he’s looking for the first long-term contract of his career. And within the next ten days, he’ll get it.
Hilton will try to become one of the highest paid slot cornerbacks in football, looking to top the Colts Kenny Moore’s four-year, $36 million extension signed back in 2019. Though the salary cap’s constriction won’t help his market, there’s still a chance Hilton comes close to that number on the open market. At the minimum, he’ll earn $6-7 million per season.
He began his career as an unheralded UDFA out of Ole Miss, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2016 draft. But he was released at cutdowns and after spending a week with the New England Patriots, was signed by the Steelers late in the year. Signing a futures deal for the 2017 offseason, he turned heads in spring and carried that momentum into training camp. We gave him an “A” grade out of the 2017 camp. As a fun look-back, here’s what we wrote about his first summer with the team.
“Mike Hilton: Certainly one of the top camp darlings. Hilton is not a big guy or have any special athletic traits (4.55, 33.5 inch vert at Pro Day), but he plays with an overwhelming amount of confidence who can hit and make plays on the football. Rarely a day went by where he didn’t make an impact play and earned the praises of myself, beat writers, the coaching staff, or all three. All for a guy who visually looks like the weakest link.
Hilton has done everything he can to make the team. And seems poised to do so.”
He made the team and by Week 2, was the starting slot corner. He racked up four sacks that season including a whopping three of them on Christmas Day. 2018 was a tougher year as he battled an elbow injury but he bounced back in big plays the last two seasons, becoming one of the top slot corners in football, especially as a run defender and blitzer.
Soon, he won’t just be playing like a top slot corner. He’ll be getting paid like one.