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Predicting a contract for Mike Hilton with the Steelers

If the Steelers and Hilton were to come to deal this offseason rather than play under the Restricted Free Agent tender, what would it look like?

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 offseason has progressed appropriately since the beginning of the league year. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the Steelers were able to restructure contracts, offer tenders, use the franchise tag, sign free agents, make their draft selections, and get their undrafted rookie free agents under contract. With a focus on getting their draftees under contract in the coming weeks, the Steelers will also be looking to sign some players to either a new contract or a contract extension.

While some of these new deals may not come until the summer, it’s not out of the question for player representatives and the Steelers to be working on something now. With that said, which Steelers going into the last year of the current deal are likely to be given a new contract before the 2020 season begins?

Rather than focus on all the players, let’s tackle one at a time. With each player, it will first be determined if they should receive a new deal along with how much would be a fair contract to both parties. This exercise is meant to just be fun and speculative as we all get to play general manager and salary cap guru for a day. The biggest question with the remaining players is if a contract would be better before this season or next offseason.

If you wish to give a basic contract answer without diving too deep into numbers, simply skip over the italicized section. If you are the kind of person who would like to see how the contract would affect the salary cap, here it is...

Coming up with an exact contract can be tricky. Rather than get into roster and work out bonuses or different amounts per season, we’re going to estimate the salaries as simply as possible. For whatever deal the player gets, the first year will have all but $1 million put into a signing bonus which will get spread over the life of the contract. For example, if a player were to sign a three-year contract for $10 million per year, the first year would have a $1 million base salary and a $9 million signing bonus. Therefore, the bonus would be spread out to $3 million over each season where the player would count $4 million dollars for 2020 and $13 million for the other two years.

One other factor which needs to be considered is if the player brings any dead money from the previous contract. To account for this in a simple manner, throw it into the salary cap hit for the first year of the players deal. Using the above example, if a player had $4 million in dead money on their last contract, the salary cap hit for their first year would be $8 million.

After looking at a deal for: Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and James Conner, now let’s see what kind of contract Steelers’ fans would like to work out with Mike Hilton now rather than play the 2020 season before making a decision.

Mike Hilton

Age: Turned 26 in March
Years: 4, including practice squad
Draft: Undrafted
Previous Contract: $645,000 as an exclusive rights free agent
2020 salary cap hit: $3.295 million (2nd round tender)
Dead Money: None

Here are the top contracts average per year (AYP) at the cornerback position according to

Darius Slay: $16.683 million
Byron Jones: $16.5 million
Xavien Howard: $15.05 million
James Bradberry: $14.5 million
Patrick Peterson: $14.01 million

There is no reasonable belief Hilton would be worthy of a top-end contract. What gets tricky is there is no official designation of a “slot” or “nickle” cornerback in the NFL, so we’ll look at two different things to help put more perspective to where Hiltion lies among other NFL corners. First, Hilton ranked 44th among all qualifying NFL cornerbacks in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus (which is a debatable process for players in the secondary, so keep that in mind). Here are the players under contract beyond their rookie deals who ranked closely to Hilton:

34. Chris Harris Jr.: $8.5 million
39. Patrick Peterson: $14.01 million
41. Jimmy Smith: $3.5 million
46. Trae Waynes: $14 million
49. Mackensie Alexander: $4 million
52. Malcolm Butler: $12.25 million

The other issue to consider is Hilton does not play position which he’s considered an “every down player.” Playing only in defensive sub packages, perhaps another gauge would be looking at the number of snaps Hilton played (671) in 2019. Here are the players under contract beyond their rookie deals who played between 650 and 690 snaps at cornerback last season:

655- Jonathan Jones: $7 million
659- Michael Davis: $3.295 million (RFA tender)
676- T.J. Carrie: $1.0475 million
683- Pierre Desir: $3.75 million

Notes: While it seemed wise for the Steelers to give Hilton a second-round tender as a Restricted Free Agent, signing Hilton beyond 2020 may also come down to Cameron Sutton (who will be featured later). 2020 could turn into a year where both players show their worth to the Steelers in order for only one to get a contract beyond this season. This issue was recently covered on BTSC by Shannon White, which can be viewed HERE.

So now it’s deal time! Perhaps the first question should be a completely different game show: Deal or no deal? Should the Steelers look to sign Mike Hilton before the 2020 season? If so, what should the deal look like? Please leave your response with the number of years and the average salary per season in the comments below.

Next time on Let’s Make A Deal: Chris Wormley.