A gut-wrenching season-ending injury for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not stop the Pittsburgh Steelers front office from being uncharacteristically aggressive to move on an in-season acquisition, trading for Miami Dolphins free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
With Sean Davis having also suffered a potentially season-ending injury with a torn labrum, Fitzpatrick was acquired—for the price of a first-round pick and a swap of later picks—to be an immediate starter. They knew that they would need a new starting free safety in 2020 anyway, so with Davis already on the shelf, the logic, I suppose, was to swing for the fences and get a jump-start on a prospect who already has a positive track record.
The coaching staff plugged him in and played him, every snap, over the course of just three practices Sunday, and he made a positive impact by forcing two turnovers, first picking off a pass that he received on a ricochet from a deflection by Joe Haden, and then later forcing a fumble recovered by Devin Bush.
“I was happy with it”, Fitzpatrick told Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in assessing his Steelers debut. “I think I did overall a pretty a good job for two days, three days of practice. I’m just excited about continuing to grow with the defense because it is a very good defense, very well-coached, very well-rounded. I’m so excited to keep growing up and keep getting better”.
The 11th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Alabama, Fitzpatrick is regarded as one of the more versatile back-seven defenders in the league. While he seems to prefer to remain at free safety as much as possible, he is capable of lining up anywhere in the secondary, and even as a sub-package linebacker.
As the weeks tick on, the Steelers intend to integrate some of these other roles and additional concepts into his repertoire relative to his role in the defense. He is already versed in being a moving part during his time in Miami, though he had expressed dissatisfaction over how he was used…as did his mother.
The game is increasingly becoming one in which particularly defensive players have to be capable of wearing multiple hats, to borrow a Tomlinism, and the Steelers see Fitzpatrick as just the sort of player they will need into the future. He is three games into the second year of his rookie contract, which includes two more years after 2019, plus a fifth-year option, so the move to trade for him, as should go without saying, was about a long-term investment, and not just about getting a starter for 2019.