PITTSBURGH – The Steelers were blessed for 12 seasons (2003-2014) with elite-level safety play by Troy Polamalu, and won two Super Bowls in the process. Although he has a lot of work to do to reach that plateau, Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was traded to the Steelers in 2019, has provided another baller on the back end.

Fitzpatrick has racked up 13 interceptions and two first-team All-Pro selections in his first four seasons. Without question, he’s one of the NFL’s brightest young stars, and in a recent ranking by CBS Sports, Fitzpatrick was named one of the top 25 players under the age of 25, landing at No. 19 list.

“If Bates deserves to reset the safety market, then so does he. The former Dolphins first-rounder set such a high standard as a ballhawk immediately after coming over from Miami that his 2021 numbers (124 tackles, seven pass deflections, two INTs) registered as just OK. He is the perfect modern safety in the way he leverages his athleticism in coverage.”

The Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on Fitzpatrick last April which will pay him $10.6 million in 2022. Fitzpatrick is set to be an unrestricted free agent next season. However, the Steelers currently rank sixth in cap space at $20.6 million, and one team insider thinks some of those funds should be used to get Fitzpatrick locked in long-term as soon as possible.

It would certainly make sense for the Steelers to do so. Fitzpatrick set a career-high with five interceptions in his first season in a Steelers uniform. He snagged four more in 2020, and although his interception and pass breakup numbers took a slight dip last season, his 124 tackles were his best since entering the NFL.

The Steelers were in a similar situation recently with edge rusher T. J. Watt who signed a four-year, $112 million just before the start of the 2021 season, and a Defensive Player of the Year award followed. If the Steelers are smart, they won’t let their heads hit the pillow for too many more nights before making Fitzpatrick their free safety for the foreseeable future.

Feature image via Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports