It should come as no surprise. If anything, this is just confirmation. But Mike Hilton is expected to be one of if not *the* top slot corner in free agency. And he’s expected to get paid accordingly.
In a free agency preview article by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano, they write Hilton is at the top of the ticket when it comes to nickel corners.
“The early feedback indicates that Steelers corner Mike Hilton has positioned himself at or near the top of the slot or nickel corner market. His ability to cover and blitz (9.5 sacks since 2017) makes him a seamless fit for a defense that plays heavy zone and brings pressure (think Bears, Packers, Chargers, Falcons or Eagles).”
That realization probably puts him out of the Steelers’ price range. It’s still unclear exactly what top-market slot money will command. But educated speculation puts him in the $7 million per year range, possibly even rivaling the $9 million per year deal the Colts’ Kenny Moore received in 2019. Had it not been for the cap constriction, Hilton likely would’ve become the highest paid slot corner in football.
Fowler’s list of teams don’t directly indicate what teams could be interested in signing him. But he figures to have several suitors calling his agent once the legal tampering period begins Monday at noon. Barring any last-minute surprise, Hilton has played his last down as a Steeler.
To replace him, Pittsburgh will turn to Cam Sutton. Sutton is also a free agent but should cost less. His market is also hard to gauge but it’s possible he re-signs somewhere in the $3-5 million range. Losing both Hilton and Sutton would be a major blow to the Steelers’ defense. Both have been key components of the Steelers’ sub-package defense the last two seasons.
Another in-house option is Antoine Brooks Jr. A 6th round pick of the 2020 draft, he’s listed as a safety but played in a slot-backer type role in his limited, 29 defensive snaps a season ago. He has a much different body type and skillset than Hilton or Sutton but he could be in the mix for some sort of sub-package role. Even if Hilton walks and Sutton is retained, the team will need a 6th DB for dime packages. Brooks could be that guy.