PITTSBURGH – The Steelers signed edge rusher T.J. Watt to a four-year, $112 million extension last September, and he rewarded them with a league-leading 22.5 sacks and a Defensive Player of the Year award. However, heading into the 2022 season, the Steelers had another top defender that was seeking a payday.
Although safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2018, he made his name known when he was traded to the Steelers before Week 3 of the 2019 season. Fitzpatrick hauled in five interceptions and earned his first of back-to-back First-Team All-Pro selections, making him more than worthy of a lucrative deal.
Fitzpatrick was given the long-term security he was looking for on Thursday when he signed a four-year, $73.6 million extension with 36 million in guarantees, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. It was important to Fitzpatrick that he reset the market for safeties, not just because his play warranted it, but to raise the expectation for those behind him.
“Yeah, I think I’m one of the best at what I do,” said Fitzpatrick. “So obviously, you would like to be paid in that way and represented in that way. In a week from now or a year from now, somebody’s obviously gonna pass it up, but you always want to raise the bar for the guys behind you, want to raise the bar for the people in our locker room. I think Mr. Rooney and (general manager) Omar (Khan), they see the work that I put in, and obviously my play on the field reflects that. They’re willing to make me that, and I’m appreciative.”
Fitzpatrick isn’t the only Steelers that got paid this offseason. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon signed a two-year extension back in March, and with Fitzpatrick now locked in, Pittsburgh has multiple viable pieces in the secondary for the foreseeable future.
The Steelers also added pieces in free agency. Linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Levi Wallace signed two-year deals with the Steelers in March. These moves were made as a result of the 42 points the Steelers gave up to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense in their playoff loss.
Fitzpatrick talked about being ready for what the Steelers could potentially be on defense in 2022.
“I’m really excited,” Fitzpatrick said. “Obviously, I’m excited about getting Ahkello back. I’m excited about Levi. I’m excited about Myles. We drafted well in the front. I think we have a young but experienced defense. We’ve got older guys who are great at coaching and getting the new guys ready to play. We’re going to need some new faces to step up. I’m very excited about this upcoming season.”
The 2021 season was considered a down year for Fitzpatrick. However, he racked up a career-high 124 tackles. Since 2019, Fitzpatrick is one of only three players to record more than 250 tackles and over 10 interceptions. Also, he’s one of only six players to grab two or more interceptions and tally 60 or more tackles over the last four seasons.
Simply put, all Fitzpatrick has to do is keep up the level of play that he’s exhibited his entire career. With a larger price tag comes larger expectations. However, Fitzpatrick doesn’t feel any pressure to perform well because of it.
“Because I’ve done it, there’s no pressure,” said Fitzpatrick. “That’s the standard that I hold myself to day in and day out.”
Feature image via Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports