The Pittsburgh Steelers are generally seen as a risk-averse organization when it comes to making bold and significant roster moves. In recent years, they haven’t historically made a lot of significant trades, either for players or during the draft. They don’t sign a lot of free agents to significant contracts from outside of the organization, either. Generally, they are a ‘build through the draft and reward your own players’ philosophy, which has generally been successful.
Sometimes, of course, they break character, and that was highlighted by the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick during Week Three of the 2019 regular season. It wasn’t simply because they made a trade for a starting player, but that they gave up a first-round pick in doing so, in a year in which they didn’t have another. The result was their being excluded from the first round in 2020 for the first time since before Chuck Noll arrived on the scene.
The early results of that bold move have been positive, of course. He is regarded as a top 100 player in the NFL, a Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro as he heads into his third year. He recorded five interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2019 for the Steelers, even returning one of each for a touchdown.
But to hear him tell it, he’s just getting started. He expects more of the same from himself, year after year. As he told the Around the 412 podcast earlier this months, he hopes to define his NFL career when all is said and done as having been “a consistently successful guy”. What does that mean?
“I think those are the guys that are looked at as the Hall of Famers, those are the guys that are looked at as the all-time greats, guys that really separate themselves”, he said, as transcribed by AL.com. “There’s the good, the great and the elite, and I’m trying to put myself in the elite category. In order to do that, there’s still a whole lot of meat left on the bone for me”.
Fitzpatrick was the 11th-overall pick by the Miami Dolphins during the 2018 NFL Draft. The Steelers after trading for him made it very clear that he was a player they very much coveted as he came out of Alabama, but head coach Mike Tomlin described it as a ‘pipe dream’ to think that they would ever be in range to get him.
Of course, they also traded up 10 spots in the first round to the 10th-overall pick earlier that year to draft Devin Bush. Pittsburgh was picking 28th that year, however, and ended up taking the man Fitzpatrick is starting alongside, fellow safety Terrell Edmunds.
The fact that Fitzpatrick was able to put up the numbers that the did while learning a new team and a new defense makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable, and hints at better things to come. But they will only come with the work being put in and the drive to reach for it, which he certainly seems to possess.