There are some players who get to start and finish their career in the same place, over a long period of time, without interruption, because they are excellent players and the organization prioritizes keeping them around and maintaining their relationship as one of mutual benefit.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, right now, the core example is Ben Roethlisberger. He’s already played 16 seasons, after all, and is under contract for two more. If he ever plays for somebody else, it won’t be until he’s 40 years old. While Cameron Heyward is technically going into a contract year, I can’t envision him ever playing in another uniform, either.
Then there are very young cases, like Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is an interesting one considering that he has already been traded. He was the 11th-overall pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2018, so obviously he will never be able to start and finish his career in the same place without interruption.
But he can finish his career the way greats like Jerome Bettis and James Farrior have, by becoming Steelers. Pittsburgh traded for The Bus and signed Farrior in free agency, but how many people connect Bettis with the Rams? How many people think of Farrior’s time with the Jets?
That already seems to be what’s happening with Fitzpatrick, who has played 18 games as a Dolphin and 14 as a Steeler. But the 14 games he played with Pittsburgh have been awesome, and catapulted his name onto the center stage following his great 2019 season, earning first-team All-Pro honors.
“He found a home with the Steelers”, said NFL analyst Brian Baldinger in talking about his seamless integration into the team. “He’s a true free safety. Miami was moving him all over the place in different roles, but he’s a free safety that has tremendous instincts”.
A former offensive lineman, Baldinger made a second career for himself in broadcasting, and is respected for his football acumen in breaking down tape. He studied Fitzpatrick’s work, showing a few examples of plays in the video I linked to above that exemplify his performance. He also spoke to the third-year safety, and this is what he had to say about him.
“He’s very elegant. Elegant in his delivery, how he presents. But he’s really smart. He’s just a smart player; to say ‘instinctive’ isn’t enough. He learned everything from Keith Butler, like, on the plane ride from Pittsburgh out to San Francisco that first week. He learned a lot of the playbook”.
“We see the instincts, we see the study habits, and then, gosh, he just looks like a Steeler to me”, he went on. “He looks great in that black and gold, wearing number 39. I think he just found a home there in Pittsburgh”.
Maybe this makes me a yinzer or whatever, but I can’t deny that I’m a sucker for a player who just ‘looks like a Steeler’. Fitzpatrick is one of them. Now it’s just a matter of paying him to keep him that way.