At least one veteran Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowler is going to get paid at some point this offseason. That is two-time first-team All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Whether or not wide receiver Diontae Johnson gets an extension or is allowed to play through his contract is much less certain. But expect Fitzpatrick to be here for a while yet.
He is entering his fourth season with the Steelers since they acquired him via trade in 2019 in exchange for a first-round pick, the most ambitious trade that they have made for a player since the 1960s, perhaps. And he’ll be joined this season by a former Alabama teammate in the secondary in the form of cornerback Levi Wallace.
Fitzpatrick and Wallace both came out of college together, only the former was nearly a top-10 pick, and the latter went undrafted. Yet both have lengthy starting histories, and will now have the opportunity to play in the same secondary again—which was one of the big draws for Wallace to sign with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent.
“Just being back with him and the player that he is, how smart he is, it definitely pushed me back in college, and I just look forward to working with him, because he’s a dog”, he told the Good Morning Football crew on the NFL Network yesterday. “I’ve come from two great safeties in Micah [Hyde] and [Jordan] Poyer, so for me going to a smart safety who knows the game, who can play really well, was important to me, too, and that’s why I decided to go to the Steelers as well”.
Fitzpatrick was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide in 2015-2017. Wallace walked on in 2016 as a junior, and did not become a full-time starter until his senior season in 2017, during which he recorded three interceptions and helped Alabama secure the national championship. The play of the secondary was a big part of that, and Wallace expects to have that same connection with Fitzpatrick in Pittsburgh.
“Me and him back and college were just always on the same page. That just excited me. He was my safety and my nickel back in college”, he said. “Just being able to flow and shift with him—I mean, we’ve already been texting. I’m like, ‘Bro, let me know however I can come into the defense and help you make more plays’, because Minkah’s a star on his own already”.
Fitzpatrick had a ‘down’ season in 2021, recording only two interceptions after securing nine combined in his first two seasons with the Steelers. He also had one forced fumble, and 124 tackles, the highest total of any defensive back in team history, and more than a third larger a sum than his previous career high.
Part of that is because the Steelers started the season unsettled in the secondary, and that involved moving Fitzpatrick around. Things weren’t settled down until the middle of the season. Having Cameron Sutton and Wallace secured in the secondary (it remains to be seen if Ahkello Witherspoon will be back), plus Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood entering their second years with the team, should help make the secondary more stable to start out in 2022.