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Steelers made a massive mistake by not re-signing Mike Hilton

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Steelers were in a tight spot last offseason with the salary cap going down because of lost revenue related to COVID-19. So, they had to make tough decisions. And one of those was letting Mike Hilton test free agency, who ended up signing with AFC North foe the Bengals.

Hilton signed a 4-year, $24 million deal with Cincinnati that included $8.5 million in 2021. Tyler Boyd said after the Bengals' Week 3 win over the Steelers that Hilton felt "disrespected" by the Steelers for not offering him a lucrative deal.

“He was their leading turnover guy from a year ago, and for them not to invest in a guy like him is kind of insulting to a person because you know how good you are,” Boyd said. "And you know you mean a lot to a team and an organization and they turn around and stab you in the back.”

The Steelers low-balling Hilton was a massive mistake. They also ended up releasing Steven Nelson because of cap-related issues, but Nelson wasn't that big of a loss. Hilton definitely was.

The Steelers could have made it work if they didn't hand out bad contracts to Derek Watt and Zach Banner. Derek Watt is overpaid and Banner just doesn't play. Banner didn't start one game this year and the Steelers signed him to a two-year, $9.5 million contract. They could have also cut Eric Ebron to free up some cap space, however, at the time Ebron was their only reliable option at tight end. I understand a lot of this is hindsight 20/20, but how do the Steelers let a talent like Hilton walk?

The Steelers also would have freed up $19 million if they forced Ben Roethlisberger to retire or cut him. We all know that wasn't going to happen, though. The Steelers should have done more maneuvering and made some bold decisions in order to keep Hilton. And they had no reliable option to replace Hilton's playmaking abilities.

All due respect to Arthur Maulet, but he's no Hilton. Along with being great against the run, Hilton's ability to time blitzes from the slot is unmatched in the league.

Hilton had a specular interception on Ryan Tannehill in the third quarter of Saturday's divisional-round game. Hilton read the play perfectly. It came in the red zone, as well, in a game which the Bengals won by three points, 19-16. You can make an argument that Hilton's interception on Tannehill won the Bengals the game. Hilton's now off to the AFC Championship Game, while the Steelers are still searching for his replacement. Which won't be easy, as Hilton's a special talent.

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