While hoping to negotiate a long term contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, cornerback Mike Hilton has been a constant presence during the team’s 2019 offseason training program. This despite having yet to sign his exclusive rights free agent tender.
Technically not under contract, any injury Hilton that suffered during voluntary OTAs would potentially cost him dearly without a new deal in place, but the undrafted nickel corner appears to be approaching practice with something to prove. Speaking to reporters about his contract situation after training on Wednesday, Hilton confirmed that he had yet to sign his tender and explained why he had come to OTAs without the security of a extension. As reported by Chris Adamski of TribLive.
“No, not yet, 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 time comes around, hopefully things work out.”
“It’s up in the air; that’s something my agent, I will discuss it with him. (The Steelers) know I want to be here — and I’m trying to show all the signs I want to be here.”
Certainly a different approach to the one taken by Le’Veon Bell, and one that would be more likely to work in his favor if it was not for the Steelers lack of salary cap space right now. As an ERFA, Pittsburgh are obligated to pay Hilton no more than $645,000 on a one-year deal in 2019. If he refuses to play under that contract, he would be forced to sit out the season.
However, Hilton is hoping the front office will extend him the same courtesy they made to Alejandro Villanueva in 2017 when he was also an ERFA, signing him to a multi-million dollar four-year deal when they could have legitimately had him play under a tender worth $615,000.
As per the NFLPA public salary cap report, the Steelers currently have just $1,152,180 in cap space available, a figure that includes a tender amount of $645,000 for Hilton. Finding the room to create the cap space required to give Hilton the sort of deal he is likely looking for would require a release or a restructure of another name on the roster.
Given that he is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, fans should expect that his agent will not allow this situation to go unresolved one way or another, but it would be a surprise to see anything done before training camp. The possible release of a player like Artie Burns could help generate some of the space require to pay Hilton, but it is doubtful the Steelers will be rushing to agree an extension anytime soon.
If Hilton plays under the terms of his ERFA tender in 2019, he will become a restricted free agent in 2020 and liable to find Pittsburgh placing at least a second-round tender on him, projected to be worth around $3.278 million.