UNITY TWP., Pa. — Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton was one of the few players whose attendance at the team’s 2019 training camp at St. Vincent College was not guaranteed.
But the 25-year-old signed his free agent tender “five minutes” before walking into the doors of Rooney Hall to report to the Steelers.
His one-year tender was valued at $645,000 and will make him a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
An exclusive-rights free agent is a unique situation for NFL players that happens when former undrafted players become free agents before their rookie contract would have expired, had they been drafted.
That means the only leverage Hilton had was to refuse to sign his tender, not report to camp and hope for a long-term contract extension. That wasn’t something that he was willing to do.
“I wanted to show the team that I’m here,” Hilton said after reporting to camp on Thursday. “I did that by showing up and signing.”
He still wants that long-term contract extension, though, and he said his goal this training camp is to prove that he’s worth it. The Steelers don’t typically negotiation contract extensions during the regular season, so he has a month to get that extension he’s looking for.
“That’s something that has to be discussed with my agent, of course, but I’m trying to show all the signs that I want to be here long term,” Hilton said. “Hopefully, something will work out in the end.”
He confirmed that his agent and the Steelers have been in contact and said “the idea is in the air, so that’s a plus.”
Hilton’s signing will have a minimal effect on the Steelers salary cap situation because during the offseason, only the top 51 salaries are counted. Hilton’s salary will only cost a little under $2,000 more than the player he bumped out of the top 51.