Fans never like to see their players move on to other teams in free agency, particularly some more than others, like Mike Hilton, the former slot cornerback who quickly became a favorite with his physical style of play and underdog story. When players like that jump ship for better opportunities elsewhere, there can be a reaction to be upset about the move, and even turn against them.
Some Pittsburgh Steelers fans reacted negatively to the news that Hilton was signed with their rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. Those same fans also won’t be happy to hear what he’s most recently had to say, calling his new teammate, Jessie Bates III, the best safety in the NFL—even better than two-time first-team All-Pro and former teammate, Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“He just doesn’t get the respect he deserves”, he said, according to Geoff Hobson for the team’s website, and that may well be true, but it doesn’t make him the best in the game. He also talked about seeing himself in Bengals stripes even while playing Cincinnati last season.
“Just seeing the guys they had over here. It started with Joe (Burrow). When you have a guy that you can build around for the next 10 plus years, that’s definitely an exciting feeling”, he told reporters. “Just seeing the growth of this team over these last four years that I’ve played them. They might not get the respect that we deserve around, but we feel like we’re coming to that turning point where guys are definitely going to respect us as a team”.
There’s also the fact that they offered him the best deal on the market, signing the slot cornerback to a four-year contract worth $24 million, including $6 million guaranteed, and $8 million in total in year one. Given the salary cap this past year, that was a great deal for a slot defender.
Now, Hilton has never said anything bad about the Steelers, nor his four seasons here. All he has done is talk up his new team, which would, and should, be expected of any new player who steps into a building. If Melvin Ingram came in here talking about how great the Los Angeles Chargers are and how he wishes he were still there, that wouldn’t play very well.
Still, it’s a weird thing to hear him call Bates the best safety in the NFL when he’s spent the past two years as Fitzpatrick’s teammate. He could have just as easily called him one of the best, rather than the player who is better than everybody else.