PITTSBURGH -- Maybe it's true that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 'secret' weapon in Mike Hilton.
For the first time in his NFL career, the former undrafted defensive back turned top-tier slot corner will receive a free agent contract worth his efforts on the field. Hilton will be just 27-years-old by the start of next season and should sign a decent contract following a three-interception, two fumble recovery, 51 tackles and three-sack season.
That contract might come from Pittsburgh before Hilton even hits the open market. The cornerback is a high priority on the team's do-to list and should at least be offered a new deal from the Steelers this March.
Not everyone outside of the city feels the same way, though. On NFL Network's list of the top 101 free agents of 2021, Hilton slid just a bit too low for comfort.
Hilton is the third Steelers player on the list behind Bud Dupree (12) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (25), ranking 51st.
Honestly, it's not a bad number to be at. Out of everyone set to hit the open market, Hilton just missing the top half of the first 101 is reasonable until you start looking through the names.
Jason Verrett, Ronald Darby, Cam Newton, ANDY DALTON all rank before Hilton on the list.
"This is the part of the free agent list where I'm willing to take a chance," Gregg Rosenthal wrote about Verrett. "Verrett is the type of boom-or-bust signing who is worth a shot on a one-year deal for a contending team."
"Great backup quarterbacks were weirdly undervalued in last year's market, receiving less money than mediocre situational pass rushers," he said about Dalton. "Dalton is settling into the phase of his career where he's one of the best backups in football."
A quality backup and a "chance" 30-year-old corner? This isn't taking anything away from anyone's value in free agency, but when being considered one of the best slot corners in the NFL should hold higher ground than it appears to.
When you're 5'9 in the NFL, you tend to get overlooked. Hilton has dealt with this his whole life and will continue to deal with it moving forward. At least outside of Pittsburgh.
If you're betting on where the cornerback ends up in 2021, you should put your money on the Steelers. Pittsburgh knows his value and his worth, and apparently, not everyone else does.