Now that the T.J. Watt contract negotiations are complete and the star pass rusher will be a Pittsburgh Steelers into his early 30s, Steelers Nation, the media and the players can now turn their attention towards the Stairway to Seven.
Or can they?
With the ink still drying on Watt’s four-year, $112m extension signed Thursday, the attention shifts to star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and his upcoming contract negotiations after the 2021 season as the former first-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins is playing the 2021 season on the final year of his rookie deal before the fifth-year option kicks in for the 2022 season.
Fitzpatrick will likely want to become the highest paid safety in the NFL, eclipsing the $17.5m per year deal Seattle’s Jamal Adams signed on August 23. In that deal, Adams saw $38 million of the $70 million deal guaranteed, which will be numbers Fitzpatrick will target this offseason.
Could Watt’s new contract extension shed some light on how things will go for Fitzpatrick, especially in the way of guaranteed money? Our very own Matthew Marczi doesn’t think so, writing, “But don’t expect these sorts of contract structures to suddenly become the norm in Pittsburgh. There are no floodgates to open, here. They merely did what they had to do, and were willing to do; things they won’t be willing to do for nearly any other player.”
That may be very true when it comes to the Steelers and Fitzpatrick negotiating this offseason. However, Fitzpatrick has certainly been keeping a close eye on the way Watt’s deal played out, setting himself up to pursue similar agreements a few months from now to remain a Steelers for the rest of his career.
“I’m paying attention to it,” Fitzpatrick told reporters Thursday, a few hours before news of Watt’s extension broke. “I’m talking to him… getting a feel for the organization.”
Though Fitzpatrick added that the Steelers have not approached him or his agent about a new deal (they wouldn’t, considering he will play the 2022 season on the fifth-year tag), the star safety is on a similar trajectory path in Pittsburgh as Watt is as a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in his first three seasons in the black and gold. Fitzpatrick finished the 2020 season with 79 tackles, four interceptions, 11 passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, earning yet another All-Pro honor.
It’s unclear what Fitzpatrick’s next contract will look like, but just like the Watt situation, Fitzpatrick is a building block on the defense as the Steelers’ identity shifts back to the defensive side of the football in life after Ben Roethlisberger. Ensuring he’s locked down will be the Steelers’ priority this offseason. Let’s just wait until we get there though before going through another contract saga.