The Pittsburgh Steelers are being celebrated over the past week after completing a new four-year contract extension with Minkah Fitzpatrick, who over the past three seasons has established himself as one of the best safeties in the NFL. While there is room for debate, he is the highest-paid safety, either way.
But the reaction to their originally acquiring him via trade—more particularly, the timing—met a very different reaction. The Steelers very uncharacteristically traded a first-round pick for him, which many saw as a high value, but they also did it just after losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season. To this day, Fitzpatrick still appreciates that and sees it as a symbol of what the Steelers represent.
“I think the thing that I appreciate most about this organization is its commitment to winning. I think everything that we do, or even me coming here, was a commitment to winning”, he recalled, speaking to the media last week after signing his new deal. “We lost our starting quarterback, our legendary Hall of Fame quarterback. It could have been a season where they just tanked and decided to call it quits, but they went out and acquired me, acquired a few other guys, and said, ‘We’re gonna do what we gotta do to win games. If we gotta win on defense, we gotta win on defense”.
The Steelers played 14 games after Roethlisberger was injured, eight started by a second-year Mason Rudolph, six by a rookie Devlin Hodges, neither of whom had ever thrown an NFL pass in a meaningful game before. They managed to go 8-6 and very nearly made it into the postseason.
“Obviously it wasn’t a perfect season, but it was a season that was dedicated toward winning, even though it wasn’t prime conditions for winning”, he recalled. “We went out there and I feel like that kind of set the tone for these last few seasons. It showed me that this program is a winning program. They’re going to do whatever it takes to win. And they’re going to hold you to that standard on a day-to-day basis”.
Perhaps that’s a reminder that actions mean something. Although the Steelers, perhaps, did not purposely trade a first-round pick for an as-yet-unproven young safety, pedigreed as he was, it had that secondary effect. Who trades away a first-round pick to get a young starter at a completely different position right after losing your franchise quarterback to a major injury?
The Steelers did. That hasn’t translated into any postseason victories since then, frankly, although they did go 12-4 in Fitzpatrick’s second year. The Roethlisberger era is over, and they have a fresh start with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. Minkah’s side of the ball might have to shoulder the load for a while, but he’s here for at least five more years, so they’ve got time to put together a winning team with him. All of their efforts are committed to that goal, one way or another.