Arguably, there were four principle storylines to the 2019 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. One was Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, of course. Another was the rise of the defense to arguably a championship-level unit. The Mason Rudolph–Myles Garrett incident was unfortunately another.
Perhaps the one that will have the longest impact, and which greatly influenced the second storyline mentioned above, was the in-season trade acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers gave up a first-round pick for the second-year safety whom the Miami Dolphins drafted 11th overall the year before.
Almost immediately, the former Alabama star made an impact. He recorded a forced fumble and an interception in his first game, and would finish the season with seven total takeaways, which was among the most by any player in the NFL. He was named a Pro Bowler as well as a first-team All-Pro.
The Steelers made the decision to make this move shortly after Roethlisberger was lost for the season, and they were routinely judged for it. For most, however, Fitzpatrick’s play proved to be worth the cost of the first-round pick, which ended up being 18th overall after they finished 8-8 on the season.
During the NFL Scouring Combine yesterday, general manager Kevin Colbert was asked if pulling the trigger on this move would make the team more open to making similar moves, trading first-round picks, in the future. They had not traded away a first-round pick in over 50 years.
It was an unusual decision because a player like that is never usually available for a pick. In our situation, it was very interesting, and obviously in Miami’s situation, getting another first-round pick was very interesting to them. So it’s not that we don’t look for those types of things, or those types of opportunities, but it presented itself, and it wasn’t hard to make those types of decisions, because Minkah was a very good player, he was a young player. He still had four years left on his deal, so we always equated that to a first-round pick. Was it an instant, overnight-type decision? Of course not, because we had to make sure that we talked through what might be available. We didn’t know where we were picking, what might be available at that pick, but we were never going to give up on 2019 because we lost our quarterback. So part of doing that trade was trying to do the best we could to have a good 2019.
While not surprising, it’s interesting for Colbert to specify that this was not an overnight decision on the organization’s part, because, on the surface, it almost seemed to be. They made the trade on the same day, if I recall correctly, that they placed Sean Davis on injured reserve.
It had been rumored for a week or two prior to the trade being made that Fitzpatrick could be on the trading block, in large part because he was seeking a trade himself, unsatisfied with how Miami was being run and his role within it. It’s likely the Steelers began doing their due diligence on the trade as soon as this had come out.