This past Thursday, S Minkah Fitzpatrick addressed the media in a team press conference after agreeing to a four-year contract extension with a new money average of $18.4 million per year. $36 million of that is guaranteed at signing, per the report, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL history. No one saw the deal being done with Minkah being a shock, as it was fully expected that the two sides would come to an agreement prior to the start of the regular season that would likely make Minkah the highest-paid safety in NFL history.
What did come as a bit of a surprise was the timing of the contract extension, getting the deal done on June 15, over a month before the Steelers would report to Latrobe for training camp. Normally, it was custom for former GM Kevin Colbert and other members of the front office to wait until the start of training camp for players to report to start the negotiation process. However, under the guidance of new GM Omar Khan, that process got sped up with negotiations reportedly starting as early as OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
As Alex Kozora highlighted after the signing, this timely manner of getting a deal done represents a subtle tweak in Pittsburgh’s business model, keeping Fitzpatrick from a possible “hold in” as well as allowing them to focus on possibly ironing out extensions with WR Diontae Johnson and K Chris Boswell. However, another talking point that hasn’t been discussed as much as the other potential re-signings Pittsburgh may make this offseason thanks to the Fitzpatrick contract timing is less of a need to worry about the contract statuses of Chargers S Derwin James and Bengals S Jessie Bates.
From an outside perspective, it was wise for Khan to get a deal done with Fitzpatrick sooner rather than later not only to give the team more time to negotiate with Johnson and Boswell if they choose to do so, but also keeps them from having to compete with possible contract extensions with James and Bates this summer as well. As talented as Fitzpatrick is, with ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky comparing him to Ed Reed recently in a segment on NFL Live, one can argue that James is just as valuable, if not more so for the Chargers defense.
Fitzpatrick was drafted ahead of James in the 2018 NFL Draft, but James is a new-age S/LB hybrid built in a similar mold of the late Sean Taylor, or more recently Kam Chancellor. Standing at 6’2″, 215 lbs., James is a chess piece that can play anywhere on defense, lining up as a strong safety, sub package linebacker, deep safety, nickel/dime defender, and occasionally as an EDGE rusher or outside corner. Injuries have hampered his career thus far, only playing in five games in 2019 and missed the entire 2020 season with a meniscus tear. However, when he has been on the field, James has been a dominant player in all facets of the game.
Bates has also been quite the player through his first four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He has started all 63 games he has played in and has 35 PBUs and ten INTs during that time frame. His impact on the field dropped off a little last season, likely leading to the Bengals franchise tagging him rather than signing him to a long-term extension. Still, as one of the better center fielders in the game today at free safety, Bates is more than deserving of a lucrative extension himself.
Paul Kasabian of Bleacher Report recently wrote an article based on recent comments in the media following the Fitzpatrick regarding potential extensions for James and Bates. He said that it wouldn’t be a shock to see James sign a four-year extension worth $80 million ($20 AYV) and Bates coming slightly behind that with a four-year pact worth $76 million ($19 AYV).
These projections seem a bit high given Fitzpatrick’s new average yearly value comes in at around $18.4 million. Still, I do see the logic of James surpassing Fitzpatrick’s deal given how much he means to the Chargers’ defense as well as his versatile talent on the field when healthy. As for Bates, I have a tough time seeing him surpassing Fitzpatrick’s average yearly value on his contract. Part of that is due to their play as many would consider Fitzpatrick a better overall player at the position. Another part has to do with the fact that the Bengals are stingier that the Steelers have been historically when it comes to lucrative contract extensions, specifically shoveling out guaranteed dollars past the first season.
This begs the question: how much longer will Minkah Fitzpatrick remain the highest-paid safety in football? If I were to guess, I would say that Derwin James would surpass him just slightly at $18.5-19 million in average yearly value sometime this summer before the season starts. As for Bates, given the history of the Bengals and their contract disputes when debating to pay their top players as well as the fact that Cincinnati went hard at drafting defensive backs in the 2022 NFL Draft, I expect Bates to play out his franchise tag this season and attempt to hit the open market and cash in next offseason.
What are your thoughts on Minkah Fitzpatrick’s contract extension and the plausibly of Derwin James or Jessie Bates surpassing him as the highest-paid safety in the NFL? Do you think either will pass him? Do they deserve to, and what is your reasoning? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!