The Pittsburgh Steelers have continued to make significant changes to their 53-man roster barely two weeks into the 2019 season. Most of them have been against their will. The latest included placing fourth-year starting free safety Sean Davis on the Reserve/Injured List.
That move comes in conjunction with the team’s acquisition of second-year defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, for whom they traded with the Miami Dolphins. In addition to a first-round draft pick in 2020, they also surrendered a 2020 fifth and 2021 sixth (of which they had two apiece) as part of the deal, and got back in return a fourth-round selection in 2020 in addition to a seventh-round pick in 2021.
That these two moves came hand-in-hand was no coincidence, as head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier today in his pre-game press conference in preparation to face the San Francisco 49ers. When asked what role Davis’ health played in making the move for Fitzpatrick, he said, “I think Sean’s injury was a significant component of it, certainly”.
He also made it clear, though it should be no surprise, that Fitzpatrick will play and start immediately, doing so at the free safety position now vacated by Davis, even though they had previously felt comfortable allowing Kameron Kelly to start in the season opener.
Tomlin was later asked what sort of influence the general concern for the nature of the passing game in the current climate had on the decision to make the trade. “I think all of us share those levels of concern in today’s NFL”, he said, “but Sean’s injury was significant in terms of making the decision to do the move that we did. I’d be less than genuine if I said otherwise”.
So would Fitzpatrick be on the roster right now had Davis not gotten hurt? It’s fair to speculate that, no, he would not be. Nevertheless, they would have soon been in the market for another starting safety in 2020, considering that it was unlikely they would have re-signed Davis in free agency in the Spring after failing to reach a deal with him this Summer. I don’t believe there was even a meaningful attempt made.
Davis’ injury is reportedly a torn labrum, an injury that he also suffered in his rookie season, but played through. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that this injury is more severe than the previous one. But he also plays a bigger role now than he did then, and wouldn’t be able to play at the level necessary for a starting free safety.
Meanwhile, the Steelers will have to work overtime in getting Fitzpatrick up to speed to play in just five days. Tomlin said that he doesn’t expect that shortness of the time available will limit the second-year player’s ability to log a high number of snaps, but he did say that they will limit him to playing safety for now.