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Trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick is all fun and games until the Steelers lose a 1st rd pick in ‘20

The Steelers made a bold move in acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick in a trade with the Dolphins on Monday. But in giving up their first-round pick for 2020, the move could prove to be disastrous if Mason Rudolph doesn’t adequately replace the injured Ben Roethlisberger, and Pittsburgh finishes 2019 with double-digit losses.

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I have a question: Did Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert consult Pirates general manager Neal Huntington before deciding to pull the trigger on a trade, Monday night, that sent the team’s 2020 first-round pick (there are other picks involved, but nobody really cares about those right now) to the Dolphins in-exchange for safety/slot-corner/secondary savior Minkah Fitzpatrick?

I’m only asking because this is kind of what Huntington did in 2018 when he sent a boat-load of prospects to the Tampa Rays in-exchange for highly-coveted starting pitcher Chris Archer at the trade deadline. Don’t get me wrong, this move excited the fan base and showed that, for once, the Buccos were in it to win it. At the same time, the move was a bit puzzling. For one thing, this was the sort of blockbuster deal the Pirates never made when they were legit National League pennant contenders in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and boasted one of the most talented rosters in baseball, starting with Andrew McCutchen. Secondly, unlike when they were legit contenders, the Pirates sat around the .500 mark in late July of last year (and needed an 11-game winning-streak to even reach that level) and were still a few games behind in the wild-card race. And third, this huge and bold (and, again, exciting) move was made just months AFTER the team traded away Cutch, along with ace pitcher Gerrit Cole.

You talk about your mixed messages. Unfortunately for the Pirates, this bold move didn’t do much to bolster their playoff chances, as they finished more than a few games out of the race (the fact that Archer disappointed in his role as trade deadline savior certainly didn’t help).

Back to the Steelers.

When word leaked over the weekend that Fitzpatrick, the 11th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, was extremely disgruntled and demanded a trade out of Miami thanks to the Dolphins’ more than obvious desire to tank the 2019 season in-order to procure the number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Steelers were in the mix of team’s rumored to be interested.

But no way would the Steelers do such a thing, right? I mean, even with Ben Roethlisberger still healthy (at least, perceived to be healthy), this just wasn’t something they did. Sure, they traded up 10 spots (and parted ways with some attractive draft picks in the process) in-order to take inside linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, but that was more of a “once in a blue moon” kind of thing. It was calculated. The Steelers identified their guy and made their move.

After Roethlisberger left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury, and after it was announced on Monday that the injury would require season-ending surgery, the thought of going after a player like Fitzpatrick was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

The focus shifted to second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph and whether or not he could succeed where many other people in his position have failed over the years.

Could he get the job done at quarterback? The intrigue was there. Lots of excitement, too. But it’s safe to say even the most optimistic of fans were preparing for the worst, that 2019 could be a huge, old stinker on par with 1988’s 5-11 season, or maybe the 6-10 fiascoes of both 1999 and 2003. But, hey, at least that ‘99 disaster led to Plaxico Burress, who went on to be a Super Bowl hero (just not with the Steelers). As for ‘03, well, it led to the selection of Roethlisberger with the 11th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, and he went on to be the most pivotal piece of the franchise’s second championship era.

I realize most Steelers fans want the team to succeed, but you just know there were some really die-hard draftniks out there who, upon hearing the news that Roethlisberger was done for the year, were calling or messaging one another about the possibility of Pittsburgh having a premium pick in 2020 and saying things like, “It’s happening!!!!!! I think it’s finally happening!!!!!!!!!!!”

Then, the trade happened. And while it was exciting news, it had to be a let down for many. Let’s face it, to those who love and study the draft, the months leading up to it are like the postseason to them, while the draft itself, well, you know what it means to you—I’ve seen you say it enough times on the eve of the event (the most popular answers are usually “My Super Bowl!” and “Christmas morning!”).

Even a late first-round pick is something to look forward to for many, and watching that get snatched away eight months before the draft, jeez, that had to be as sobering to you as hearing the news about Roethlisberger was to me.

Hey, I feel ya’. As a writer, to not have a first-round pick to speculate on for months and months is going to be a huge adjustment next spring.

But draftniks and writers aren’t really important. What is important is the Steelers trade for Fitzpatrick and whether or not it was a sound move.

On paper, it was. The Steelers have been trying to find the final pieces to their secondary forever. Never having top-10 picks hasn’t helped, which is why they were fortunate that Joe Haden, a former top-10 pick, fell into their laps as a free agent two summers ago.

You throw Fitzpatrick and his dynamic play-making ability back there at free safety in place of the injured Sean Davis (he is now on IR after sustaining a torn labrum in his shoulder), and you may have something.

Haden is Haden, while Fitzpatrick, despite having just 18 games on his resume, is apparently Fitzpatrick. Steven Nelson, a corner Pittsburgh signed in free agency last March, looks pretty solid. If Terrell Edmunds can ever put it together, maybe the Steelers can finally solve that pesky problem of not being able to cover tight ends and other such receivers.

It’s also a huge vote of confidence in Rudolph, that they believe he can do the job at quarterback in 2019. It’s also a vote of confidence in the other 51 guys on the roster. Unlike the Dolphins, the Steelers don’t tank. Tua who? What’s that other quarterback’s name? It doesn’t really matter, right? Pittsburgh treats every season the same: “Super Bowl or bust.”

Having said all that, however, this is still a pretty huge gamble.

Sure, it might be logical and rational right now to say that the Steelers just acquired their 2020 first-round pick in Fitzpatrick, who is 22 and still has at least three years left on his rookie deal (four, if Pittsburgh picks up his fifth-year option). But nobody is going to be very logical or rational next April if Miami’s second first-round pick is announced just moments after its first first-round pick.

In-fact, there will probably be many Steelers fans banned from many Steelers sites in the months leading up to the draft on a kinda being so enraged at the thought of the team not being able to address a major need--one that would presumably include the quarterback position if Rudolph looks like Landry Jones 2.0.

The Steelers just took a huge risk, not in acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick (I’m guessing he’s going to be quite good), but in potentially missing out on a chance to acquire their next Ben Roethlisberger.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.