Coming out of the University of Alabama after three star-studded seasons under legendary head coach Nick Saban, Minkah Fitzpatrick was highly sought after for his versatility in the defensive secondary, being able to handle a number of roles overall at a high level.
Despite having that versatility in his game, all Fitzpatrick wanted was to have a set position where his true skillset could really shine, which ultimately led to a surprise trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers from the Miami Dolphins just weeks into his second season in the NFL.
Since that trade, Fitzpatrick has transformed the Steelers’ defense, giving them a plug-and-play free safety that is tied to the post and can shut down opposing offenses overall, leading to two straight First Team All-Pro accolades and two trips to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons with the Steelers.
All of that led to him signing a market-setting extension with the Steelers on Wednesday, inking a four-year, $73.6 million extension, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL — for now.
Speaking with reporters Thursday to discuss his extension, what it means to him to be a Steelers for the foreseeable future, and more, Fitzpatrick said he’s still learning, adapting, and growing as a true safety in today’s NFL, stating that it helps being a free safety allowing him to establish an identity as a player.
“I think I evolved a lot. My first game as a Steeler in San Francisco was my first time really playing full time free safety,” Fitzpatrick said to reporters, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “My first two games in Miami, I was kind of moving around a little bit and that was really the only time I played free safety before in the league. I played a few games, like four games, in college. But I think from that time to now, I’ve learned the type of player that I am.
“I learned my strengths, I learned my weaknesses. I know what I need to work on,” Fitzpatrick added, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “I know what I’m good at. And I feel like just being able to form my identity has really helped me evolve into the player that I am today. I’m still learning, still adapting, still growing, still trying to find new ways to get better and improve. But I think I’m a totally different player than I was a few years ago when I first got here.”
The Steelers did right by Fitzpatrick, tying him to the post, allowing the Steelers’ defense to truly reach another level with a key chess piece like Fitzpatrick holding down the secondary. In recent seasons they have moved Fitzpatrick around some, but he still remains that centerfield-type safety that can cover a ton of ground and clean up mistakes left and right, especially against the run, for the Steelers’ defense.
He’s certainly evolved and has reached a new level in his game, regardless of how Pro Football Focus feels about him overall. That bodes well for the Steelers’ defense moving forward with Fitzpatrick as a key young piece for a team aiming to contend long-term.