On Thursday morning, 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.
During the team press conference where Fitzpatrick addressed the media which was shown on the team’s YouTube page following his recent contract extension, Fitzpatrick was asked by one of the media members about the importance of his leadership and communication skills with his teammates during OTAs and mandatory minicamp after several players talked about the role he had with the team despite not actively participating in practice during the contract negotiation process.
“It’s hard for me just to be away from the game,” Fitzpatrick responded when asked about still attending OTAs and minicamp. “I love this game and it’s a big part of who I am and my identity. I could have been at home in Florida training with my family, but I really wanted to come up here and show my teammates that I’m still focused on winning. I’m still focused on us. You know what I’m saying? I’m still focused on our development.”
This statement by Fitzpatrick must make HC Mike Tomlin crack a smile and feel like his message has been well-received by one of his best players. While money can make the world go round at times, especially when $73.6 million of new money is on the line, Fitzpatrick didn’t allow personal gain to take away from the team and its vision of competing for a Super Bowl.
Fitzpatrick could have easily taken the fine and stayed at home in Florida like he mentioned in the quote above, and like several other players in the NFL have done this offseason amid their own contract disputes, but he instead showed great commitment to his teammates and the Steelers organization by not allowing contract negotiations get in the way of the Steelers’ goals as a team.
“I know what the standard is, and I know how older guys like Cam [Heyward] and T.J. [Watt] and Coach T hold to it,” Fitzpatrick continued. “And I feel like I’m a leader in the secondary and I wanted to start building that standard. Now, even though I wasn’t out there practicing, I could still watch, still coach, still talk and break down film with guys. And I just wanted to let the guys know, like I said, that this is important to me. Even though I was going through this contract situation, that the team is first to me.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick is a man of great words, but also a man that follows his words with his actions. He said he envisions himself being a leader of the secondary, which is sorely needed after the Steelers decided to not bring back veteran CB Joe Haden this offseason. What does Fitzpatrick do to prove that he is ready to step into that leadership role? He puts the team above himself and shows up to voluntary OTAs, helping his teammates in practice, in the meeting room, and just spend time with them to help continue building team camaraderie and coaching his fellow defensive backs like S Terrell Edmunds mentioned earlier during mandatory minicamp.
Minkah Fitzpatrick said that the team is important to him, and he proved that not only by being present during offseason activities but working with Khan and the front office to quickly come to terms on a contract extension that would ensure that he would be on the field the second he reports to training camp later this summer. He could easily have pressed the issue of asking for more money with his self-interests in mind. Who could blame him when this is this man’s livelihood, especially after seeing how quick it can all end after witnessing what happened to Ryan Shazier a few years ago?
Still, Fitzpatrick sought to find a deal that made sense for both sides and didn’t delay getting it done, giving the Pittsburgh Steelers possibly the best free safety under contract for the next five years while making him the highest-paid player at his position in NFL history.
Fitzpatrick brought up the names Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Mike Tomlin when referring to Tomlin’s coined phrase “The Standard”. Those three names exemplify what “The Standard” is; this expectation to be the best you can possibly be and elevate those around in pursuit of Super Bowl championships for the city of Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick desires to be alongside those names as a team leader and do his part to bring another Lombardi to Pittsburgh. With the mass exodus of long-time veterans from the Steelers the last couple of seasons, new names must rise to the forefront to carry on that legacy of championship-caliber football in the Steel City.
Given his play on the field as well as his actions off of it, it’s safe to say that Minkah Fitzpatrick is next in line for that role, which is well-deserved.