CB Mike Hilton unsigned but present at Steelers OTAs
He’s officially not under contract, but Mike Hilton is holding down his customary spot at Pittsburgh Steelers organized team activities.
After Wednesday’s session at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Hilton confirmed both that he has yet to sign the exclusive-rights free agent tender the Steelers have presented him with and that he was taking OTA reps at the nickel inside cornerback. This is Hilton’s fourth NFL preseason, his third with the Steelers and his second since establishing himself as the Steelers’ No. 1 option to cover receivers in the slot.
But after two seasons, 31 games, five sacks, three interceptions and 14 passes defended for the Steelers in that role, Hilton has to this point politely declined to accept the relatively-paltry (by NFL standards) salary associated with an ERFA tender.
“No, not yet,” Hilton said of signing it. “But that’s why I am here. I want to be here and I want to show them I want to be part of this group for as long as possible. So, when that (contract) time comes around, hopefully things work out.”
The games still have to be played ! Gonna be fun this year !
— Mike Hilton (@MikeHilton_28) March 13, 2019
Exclusive rights free agents have virtually no bargaining leverage and typically play for the league minimum. Most ERFA’s are former undrafted players with fewer than three years of service time.
Hilton was undrafted in 2016 and spent the summer and camp with Jacksonville before being among the Jaguars’ final cuts. He also spent a week on the New England practice squad in September but joined the Steelers’ practice squad that December.
It was during the following training camp he earned a starting gig with the Steelers. And though he was something of an under-the-radar sensation for the 13-3 Steelers that season, his production and playing time dropped – slightly – last season.
Still, Hilton opened up this offseason as the No. 1 slot corner, and the Steelers don’t have an obvious replacement. As such, that could serve as Hilton’s leverage in getting a better contract offer.
While it is rare that a ERFA can get a more lucrative contract, it was two years ago that Alejandro Villanueva used the subtle, largely-unspoken threat of a training-camp holdout to get a four-year, $24 million deal 21 months after he’d taken over as the Steelers’ starting left tackle.
Mike Hilton — one of the best slot CBs in the league. Mirrors this well.pic.twitter.com/rOGvaVKHoi
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) May 21, 2019
Though he could be hoping for a similar outcome from a similar situation, Hilton shied away from negotiating or stating his intentions through the media.
“It’s up in the air; that’s something my agent, I will discuss it with him,” Hilton said. “(The Steelers) know I want to be here — and I’m trying to show all the signs I want to be here.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .