The Pittsburgh Steelers’ bold move to trade a first-round draft pick in the acquisition of second-year free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was, obviously, not a step taken lightly. While it was partly influenced by the significant injury suffered by Sean Davis, they understand that this is a long-term investment.
In recent years, the front office has seemingly grown tired of watching some of their most coveted draft targets slip past them draft after draft, simply because they never pick early enough. They had to sit tight in 2018 as the top four inside linebackers and top two safeties flew off the board well before they could get them.
In 2019, they have now made two bold trades to acquire some of their top targets at those positions, including Devin Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft. In that case, they also dealt their first-round pick, but did so to move up 10 spots in the round.
In the Fitzpatrick trade, they completely sent a first-round pick away. As it currently stands, they are expected to be without a selection in the first round since the beginning of common era of the draft, when the NFL and AFL began selecting players together in 1967.
It had, prior to that, been nearly routine for the Steelers ship off premium draft picks, largely to acquire high-end talents who are in the twilight of their careers. They made at least one selection in the first round in every season from 1968 to 2019, which is by far the longest active consecutive streak in NFL history.
They, at least for the time being, have shown they are willing to break that mold for Fitzpatrick. “It’s an honor that they did that”, the former 11th-overall pick of the Miami Dolphins told reporters in the locker room yesterday following his first practice in the black and gold.
“It means that they think very highly of me. Like I said, I’m excited by it, and I’ve just got to work to fulfill everything that they think I can be”, he added. “I’m just gonna go out there and do my job, work hard, do what I do”.
Fitzpatrick spent virtually the entirety of his first practice session running with the starters. He told reporters that he was in the film room for about five hours on Tuesday, trying to learn some of the nuances of the system, which he is expected to step into immediately.
While the Steelers are going to try to simplify things as much as possible for him, including but not limited to keeping him static at the free safety role, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some early communication and comprehension issues as he begins his career in Pittsburgh.
But of course, they won’t define his time with the Steelers. He’ll have at least three years to prove that he’s worth a long-term investment. He certainly has the pedigree to be their best safety since Troy Polamalu, and in the top three behind Donnie Shell.