When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins came to an agreement on a trade for young safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, sending the former Alabama star north to the Steel City on Sept. 16, 2019, the response from fans and the national media was mixed, with many lamenting the Steelers trading a future first-round pick away just a few short days after the franchise lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending injury.
Flash forward two seasons later and Fitzpatrick has quickly developed into one of the top safeties in the NFL overall, making those who questioned the trade at the time look silly, especially considering the Steelers went 8-8 without Roethlisberger, sending the No. 18 overall pick in the end to the Dolphins, which was much lower than many anticipated immediately following the trade.
One such analyst who looks silly in hindsight — and admits it freely — is ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, who took the time to revisit a number of big NFL trades since 2018 and spent quite a bit of time writing about the Fitzpatrick trade.
At the time of the trade, Barnwell was fully against the Steelers making this move for a safety.
“This was a surprising one. Fitzpatrick started his 2020 season as a member of the Dolphins, where he was torched in the slot by Ravens speedster Marquise Brown before being benched,” Barnwell writes. “Two weeks later, with Steelers free safety Sean Davis done for the year, Pittsburgh sent a first-round pick to Miami to get Fitzpatrick. I didn’t like this deal, especially since we knew Ben Roethlisberger was undergoing surgery. In what was likely to be a lost season for the Steelers, I thought Pittsburgh should have kept its first-round pick in case it was needed to replace Roethlisberger.”
With two years under his belt in Pittsburgh, two first team All-Pro selections and two Pro Bowl berths later, the trade looks like an absolute steal for the Steelers, as Fitzpatrick has helped completely transform the Steelers’ defense from an inconsistent, mostly underachieving unit into a dominant, ball-hawking group that has become one of the best in the league, bar none.
“I was wrong [regarding the trade],” Barnwell writes. “Fitzpatrick was transitioned out of the slot role he played with the Dolphins into a full-time free safety for the Steelers and made an immediate impact. By the end of the year, he had picked off five passes on the way to being named a first-team All-Pro. The Steelers still don’t have a succession plan for the post-Roethlisberger era, but Fitzpatrick is a building block on one of the league’s most talented defenses.”
He’s certainly quick to rib the Steelers for not having a succession plan for the post-Ben Roethlisberger era (what team truly does in the NFL?), but he’s right in that he was way wrong about the trade at the time, and now in hindsight.
What did the Dolphins truly get out of that deal? Those draft picks turned into offensive lineman Austin Jackson, defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge, and running back DeAndre Washington, who was acquired with one of the picks from the Steelers.