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.
Saunders: Maurkice Pouncey Building Hall of Fame Credentials
Is Maurkice Pouncey a future Hall of Famer?
It’s not really fair to judge a player’s career through such a lens until it’s over, but as he enters his 12th season with the Steelers, Pouncey’s career is far closer to its end than its beginning. It’s natural at this stage to wonder what’s left for the decorated leader of Pittsburgh’s offensive line to prove.
Pouncey has made eight Pro Bowls in his 10 years with the Steelers, and five times has been selected as an NFL All-Pro. It’s hard to do much better than that, especially with him missing all but one game of the 2013 season.
Outside of that, Pouncey, has been durable, averaging over 15 starts per season for the remaining nine years of his career.
On Monday, Pouncey was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s, joining Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack.
That honor alone, bestowed upon by a committee organized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shows that Pouncey could be on the doorstep of enshrinement.
Of the 10 offensive linemen named to the 2000s all-decade team, only Alan Faneca and Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz have not made it to the hall, and Faneca has been a five-time finalist that will likely make it eventually.
Three other centers have recently been added to the Hall of Fame’s ranks, with Kevin Mawae inducted in 2019, Vikings legend Mick Tingelhoff getting the call in 2015 and Pouncey’s spiritual Steelers predecessor Dermontti Dawson going to Canton, Ohio in 2012.
Without any real statistics, those voted-upon honorifics are the only tangible things we have to evaluate offensive linemen empirically.
In that way, Pouncey eight Pro Bowls, five All-Pros and all-decade team selection hold up well.
Dawson had seven Pro Bowls, six All-Pros and was on the 1990’s all-decade team. Mawae had eight Pro Bowls, seven All-Pros and was on the 2000s all-decade team. Tingelhof had six Pro-Bowls, seven All-Pros. Interestingly, none of those players owns a Super Bowl ring, though Tingelhof won an NFL title with the Vikings in 1969 and played in four Super Bowls.
When considering the fact that Pouncey has more time to add to his legacy — his recently restructured contract runs through the end of the 2021 season — it seems that he should have a fairly good argument when the time for voting comes.
Former Steelers DE Keith Willis Joins Edinboro Coaching Staff
Edinboro University has hired former Steelers defensive end Keith Willis as their new assistant head coach and defensive line coach.
Veteran Coach, NFL Player Keith Willis Joins Edinboro Coaching Staff https://t.co/y3x1Ovmgp7— Edinboro Athletics (@BoroAthletics) April 6, 2020
“Keith’s experience both as a player and a coach will make him a tremendous asset to Edinboro University,” head coach Jake Nulph said in a press release. “He is a great man of character and our young men are going to learn so much from him.”
Willis spent ten years in Pittsburgh, and his 59 sacks as a Steeler are the sixth-most in franchise history and the eighth-most ever by an undrafted free agent. The team won two division titles and reached an AFC Championship Game during his tenure.
Willis has nearly 25 years of coaching experience, most recently having served as the defensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
He has also coached defensive line for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL for three seasons(2013-15), and spent 18 years in the college ranks at North Carolina State (2007-12), Boston College (2001-06), Cincinnati (1999- 00) and Slippery Rock (1995-98).
Can the Steelers Find an Impact Player at #49?
So where does that leave the team as they head into the 2020 NFL Draft?
Round number two, pick number 49; that’s when the Steelers will get to work trying to acquire an impact player for this season and beyond.
NFL front offices are, for the most part, excellent at evaluating and identifying talent coming out of college. By the time the Steelers draft, roughly half of the NFL franchises will get not one, but two cracks at finding “their” player. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin in the meantime will just have to wait to see which remaining players on the board fulfill their team’s needs.
So, what kind of player will be available when Colbert and company finally make their selection? Pro Football Reference keeps track of each pick’s value as it relates to trading and impact. The first pick in any draft is worth 3000. The final pick of the first round is worth 590. For the Steelers at #49, the pick is worth 410.
Yes, there will be good players available, but they’re going to have to have the magic touch if they want someone who can step in in year one.
Here are the last 10 years of draft picks from #44-#54, a +/- spread of five from the Steelers’ first pick.
|Pick||Team||Name||Position||Age||Draft Year||All-Pro||Pro Bowl||Starter||Career AV||Games|
|50||MIN||Irv Smith Jr.||TE||21||2019||0||0||0||3||16|
Let’s take a closer look at the players who standout from each year.
2019 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Two skill position guys, Miles Sanders and A.J. Brown and two centers are the clear choices from this grouping. Brown had over 1,000 yards of receiving and Sanders was a threat on the ground (800+ yards) and through the air (50 catches). Other than that, not much there.
Best player taken after pick #54: D.K. Metcalf, Seattle (Rd. 2, Pick 64)
2018 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Best player taken after pick #54: Orlando Brown, Baltimore (Rd. 3, Pick 83)
2017 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Best player taken after pick #54: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans (Rd. 3, Pick 67)
2016 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
The 2016 NFL Draft class was home to the only 2nd round pick in the last ten years to never see the field, Christian Hackenberg. But 2016 also had Michael Thomas, who’s developed into one of the best receivers in the league and Derrick Henry, who finally showed what he can do this past season. Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones also made a Pro Bowl from this group. Center Nick Martin stepped in from day one and been a reliable starter and Jarran Jones has had limited success with the Seahawks.
Best player taken after pick #54: Tyreek Hill, Kansas City (Rd. 5, Pick 165)
2015 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Eric Kendricks come on down, you’re the only star player from the 2015 group! The Minnesota linebacker has one Pro Bowl and one All-Pro team to his name. Center Mitch Morse has been a solid player since being drafted and has started every game since being drafted for the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. LA Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman has started a majority of his games since being drafted.
Best player taken after pick #54: Joe Thunney, New England (Rd. 3, Pick 78)
2014 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Best player taken after pick #54: Telvin Smith, Jacksonville (Rd. 5, Pick 144)
2013 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
A former Steeler you may recognize, Le’Veon Bell joins Jamie Collins in being two highly talented, All-Pro caliber players from 2013’s grouping. A fair amount of other names on the list have had success including Kiko Alonso, Johnathan Hankins, and Kawann Short. Another former Steeler, Jon Bostic has had three consecutive years starting and had one of his best year as a pro in 2019 with the Redskins.
Best player taken after pick #54: David Bakhtiari, Green Bay (Rd. 4, Pick 109)
2012 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Bobby Wagner is the stud selection for this group with 5 All-Pro selections, he’s almost guaranteed a future bust in Canton. Alshon Jeffery, Mychal Kendricks and Zach Brown have also had lots of NFL success.
Best player taken after pick #54: Russell Wilson, Seattle (Rd. 3, Pick 75)
2011 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
New Steeler Stefen Wisniewski leads this list, although none from this group has ever made a Pro Bowl.
Best player taken after pick #54: Richard Sherman, Seattle (Rd. 5, Pick 154)
2010 NFL Draft Class #44-#54
Only two players from 2010 are still in the league, Linval Joseph and Carlos Dunlop. Both have had very good careers with each making the Pro Bowl twice.
Best player taken after pick #54: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (Rd. 6, Pick 195)