Prior to the 2021 regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers knew they had to get a deal done with T.J. Watt. Watt was entering his 5th year option with the team, and he was making it clear he wanted a new deal which extended beyond 2021. Watt never missed a practice during Training Camp and the preseason, but he never participated in any team drills...not until a deal was done.
As most fans remember, a deal was done prior to the team’s Week 1 game vs. the Buffalo Bills, but negotiations for the game’s premiere pass rusher were anything but smooth. In fact, reports are Watt eventually told his agents to leave negotiations as he signed a deal which he felt was fair for both sides.
In 2022 the Steelers will have a similar situation with Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers picked up Fitzpatrick’s 5th year option, meaning he is under contract for the 2022 season, but beyond that nothing is guaranteed. That is the problem most athletes have with this situation for 1st round draft picks.
Fitzpatrick hasn’t made any public declaration of his wanting a new contract, but no professional athlete wants to ever play on a one-year deal unless absolutely necessary. While Fitzpatrick hasn’t said he wants a new deal done, the Steelers have said they want to give him a new contract.
“Yes, we would like to extend Minkah’s contract this offseason, and so that’ll be an important order of business that hopefully we can get done before the season starts.” Rooney told Missi Matthews of Steelers.com in an interview.
Rooney would know what it takes to keep a premiere play-maker like Fitzpatrick on the roster for the long haul, but how much will it cost? Before diving into the market value, let’s take a look at what Fitzpatrick did on the field in 2021.
Total Tackles: 124
Solo Tackles: 84
Fumble Recoveries: 1
Forced Fumbles: 1
Pass Defense: 7
Tackles For Loss (TFL): 1
Many fans might look at the above statistics and believe Fitzpatrick doesn’t deserve a long term contract, but that thought process is based solely on the lack of interceptions/takeaways. But when you think back to the 2021 season, you could see how Fitzpatrick was used more as an extra linebacker due to the defense’s inability to stop the run. When your safety leads the defense in tackles, that is a very telling statistic.
Everyone wants to point to Fitzpatrick’s 2020 and 2019 seasons as a reason why his play has gone the wrong way, but if you look at the numbers, it doesn’t play out that way.
Total Tackles: 79
Solo Tackles: 60
Fumble Recoveries: 1
Forced Fumbles: 1
Pass Defenses: 11
Total Tackles: 57
Solo Tackles: 36
Fumble Recoveries: 2
Forced Fumbles: 1
Pass Defenses: 9
When you look at the numbers, you can see just how Fitzpatrick added another level to his game. Yes, his interceptions were down, but his fumble recoveries, forced fumbles and pass defenses were all around where he was since coming to Pittsburgh in 2019 via trade. When you look at his meteoric increase in tackles, it just adds to the value of Fitzpatrick to the Steelers’ defense.
Now, let’s take a look at what it might cost to sign Fitzpatrick to a long-term deal, based on current market value at safety.
Jamal Adams — Seattle Seahawks — 4 yr(s) / $70,000,000
Yearly Ave: $17,500,000
Guaranteed at Signing: $21,000,000
Total Guaranteed: $38,000,000
Harrison Smith — Minnesota Vikings — 4 yr(s) / $64,000,000
Yearly Ave: $16,000,000
Guaranteed at Signing: $14,179,410
Total Guaranteed: $26,379,410
Justin Simmons — Denver Broncos — 4 yr(s) / $61,000,000
Yearly Ave: $15,250,000
Guaranteed at Signing: $32,100,000
Total Guaranteed: $35,000,000
Budda Baker — Arizona Cardinals — 4 yr(s) / $59,000,000
Yearly Ave: $14,750,000
Guaranteed at Signing: $22,100,000
Total Guaranteed: $33,100,000
Eddie Jackson — Chicago Bears — 4 yr(s) / $58,400,000
Yearly Ave: $14,600,000
Guaranteed at Signing: $22,000,000
Total Guaranteed: $33,000,000
Kevin Byard — Tennessee Titans — 5 yr(s) / $70,500,000
Yearly Ave: $14,100,000
Guaranteed at Signing: $25,225,000
Total Guaranteed: $31,000,000
When you look at the Top 6 safeties, in terms of contract status, above, you notice a yearly average of anywhere between $14-$17 million dollars. On top of that, the guaranteed money ranges from $26-$38 million dollars.
The safety position is highly valued in today’s NFL, and the contracts given to the top players at the position clearly reflect this. But the Steelers typically do contracts different than other teams. To take a look at how the Steelers like to structure big money deals, let’s take a look at the deal the Steelers and T.J. Watt came to terms on before the 2021 regular season began.
T.J. Watt — 4 yr(s) / $112,011,000
Yearly Ave: $28,002,750
Guaranteed at Signing: $80,000,000
Total Guaranteed: $80,000,000
Signing Bonus: $35,593,470
The Steelers will pay players what they feel their market value is, and if that market value is the top of their position, like it was for Watt, they will find a way to make it work. With that said, the difficulty of the decision with Fitzpatrick is where he fits among the league’s best at safety.
If Fitzpatrick and his agent(s) deem him to be the best, contract negotiations will be difficult. However, if the goal is to just be in the Top 5 of value, in terms of pay, in the league, the Steelers should be able to get a deal done.
With the Steelers expected to have roughly $30 million dollars in salary cap space this offseason, is it safe to say there is a good chance a good chunk of that space will go to locking up Fitzpatrick long term? Not necessarily. When T.J. Watt signed his new deal this past offseason, his 2021 salary cap hit actually went down. The same would happen with Fitzpatrick (set to be $10,612,000 on his fifth-year option) if he signed the deal BTSC’s resident stat geek Dave Schofield proposed:
Minkah Fitzpatrick — 4 yr(s) / $60,000,000
Yearly Ave: $15,00,000
Signing Bonus: $20,000,000
2022 Salary Cap Hit: $6,000,000
Average Cap Hit 2023-2025: $18,000,000
What do you think is a fair deal for Fitzpatrick, and the Steelers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year and the 2022 NFL Draft.