Just as it looked as though the season was lost with the injury to Ben Roethlisberger, it’s very possible that Minkah Fitzpatrick saved it. Since the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired the 2018 first-round safety from the Miami Dolphins, the defense has played at an entirely different level, and it has been the driving force to their post-Roethlisberger success in 2019.
Fitzpatrick, out of Alabama, was the 11th-overall pick a year ago, and a player that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the staff highly coveted coming out of college. They knew, however, that the opportunity to land him would be no more than a “pipe dream”, as Tomlin said in his first press conference following that trade acquisition.
It’s fair to say that he has made a huge difference, in multiple ways. For starters, he has produced seven takeaways with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and has also forced a fumble. He has scored two defensive touchdowns.
And frankly, even more importantly, he has offered consistent quality performances from play to play. His coverage on the back end has greatly solidified the Steelers’ pass coverage, particularly against the deep ball, and has allowed the pass rush more time to get home, as well.
Arguably the most remarkable thing about the trade was also the timing. It came just as they were putting Roethlisberger on the Reserve/Injured List, already in an 0-2 hole for the season. They’ve gone 7-3 since then, refusing to write off the year. That’s something the locker room appreciated.
“The people making those decisions didn’t count us out. You can’t say a lot of teams make that type of move once they lose their Hall of Fame quarterback”, nickelback Mike Hilton told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the week. “But ever since he got here, he’s elevated us defensively, our mentality, and we’ve put ourselves in a good position”.
That’s high praise coming from a team that already had two Pro Bowlers on that side of the ball with Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt, but Fitzpatrick has slid right into the mix, not only embracing the team and culture, but being embraced in return as well.
There were many who questioned the value of the trade on multiple levels—especially those who were confident the Steelers would have a top-10 draft pick—but the subsequent evidence makes it resoundingly obvious who ‘won’ that trade, if not both teams.
And lest we forget, Fitzpatrick is under contract for the next two seasons as well, not including the fifth-year option. This move was made with the long view in mind, not 2019. We’re talking a decade-plus. The Steelers wouldn’t have made this type of move if they didn’t see him as a future Pro Bowler who was going to retire a Steeler.