Another day, another loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.
According to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network/NFL.com, slot cornerback Mike Hilton is signing with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The blow of losing Hilton has been softened somewhat by the fact that the Steelers were able to re-sign cornerback Cameron Sutton to a two-year contract. Sutton is versatile enough to replace Hilton in the slot, and can potentially take over as a starter for either Joe Haden or Steven Nelson in 2022, as both Haden and Nelson are entering the last year of contracts they signed in 2019.
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But it’s still a significant loss for the Steelers, as Hilton consistently made plays throughout his time in Pittsburgh. In fact, he capably filled the role that the Steelers envisioned for Senquez Golson, who was a teammate of Hilton’s at the University of Mississippi. The Steelers selected Golson in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft (56th overall), but thanks to a succession of injuries, Golson never played a down for the Steelers (even in the preseason), making him one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history.
Mike Hilton’s Career with the Steelers
Hilton entered the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, signing as an undrafted rookie free agent on May 1, 2016. He never appeared in a game with the Jaguars but quickly established himself in Pittsburgh, this despite his lack of size (5-foot-9, 184 pounds), which may have been a factor in Hilton not getting an invite to the 2016 Combine.
Over the course of his four seasons with the Steelers he appeared in 59 games (20 starts), amassing 237 total tackles (186 solo) while recording seven interceptions and forcing three fumbles. He also excelled at blitzing quarterbacks and making plays behind the line of scrimmage, contributing 9.5 sacks, 30 tackles for loss and 23 quarterback hits.
In 2020 he earned $3.259 million with the Steelers, having played on the second-round tender he signed in June of last year.
It was only a year ago that Hilton told Steelers.com that he felt at home in Pittsburgh and hoped to re-sign with the organization when he hit unrestricted free agency.
“I feel like I am a true definition of a Pittsburgh Steeler,” Hilton said at the time. “I am a grinder. Nothing comes easy. I would love to spend the rest of my career here,” he added, before saying, “I want to help bring the Steelers a championship [and] I want to stay as long as possible. I am trying to show everybody I want to be here.”
In the wake of Ian Rapoport’s report, several of Hilton’s defensive teammates took to Twitter to wish their former colleague well, including outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end Cameron Heyward.
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