The Pittsburgh Steelers locker room is celebrating right now, as one of their own, Minkah Fitzpatrick, was just made the highest-paid safety in the NFL. But teams don’t pay players just to be nice, of course. And they also don’t pay players for what they’ve done in the past. Players get paid because of what they’re expected to do in the future, and that’s to help teams win games.
The Steelers paid Fitzpatrick because they think he’s going to help them be successful in 2022 and beyond, with the goal of winning a Super Bowl. And Fitzpatrick also believes that they have a defense that can win, as he told reporters yesterday regarding his anticipation for the upcoming season and the unit they’ve put together.
“I’m really excited”, he said, going on to discuss the additions and retentions, the moves the front office made this offseason to construct their starting lineup. “I’m excited about getting Ahkello [Witherspoon] back. I’m excited about Levi [Wallace]. I’m excited about Myles [Jack]. We drafted well as well in the front”.
Of course, they already had a lot of talent on hand with guys like Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and himself, all of them All-Pro players. They also have younger players still on the rise, or at least theoretically so, like Alex Highsmith, Devin Bush, and Isaiahh Loudermilk, as well as solid veterans and new pieces being added to the mix.
“I think we have a young but experienced defense”, Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got older guys that are great mentors, great at coaching and getting the new guys ready to play, because we’re gonna need some new faces to step up. I’m very excited about this upcoming season”.
They’re especially going to need new faces up front with Stephon Tuitt retiring. Chris Wormley will presumably resume his role in the starting lineup, though Loudermilk could potentially compete there, or at least command playing time. Rookie third-round pick DeMarvin Leal could fight for snaps as well.
The Steelers are hoping that the addition of Jack at linebacker, along with a more mentally and physically healthy Bush, will help solidify the middle of the defense again, which was a problem last year. They also have Buddy Johnson going into his second season, whom they expect to develop and possibly contribute in some capacity.
They even added depth in the secondary, signing veteran safety Damontae Kazee, who is also equipped to play in the slot, so he can be valuable in sub-packages even with Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds set to return in the starting lineup.
But how good will this defense be as a whole? On paper, it does look pretty good overall, and it always helps to have a few All-Pros in the mix, but how much of the load can those three shoulder? Who else will step up?