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 stated 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? As other defensive backs around the NFL cash in with big contracts, Fitzpatrick has been patient, and private, with his contract negotiations.
One thing which is certain, contract negotiations, or a lack thereof, haven’t kept Fitzpatrick from staying away from the team. Pictures put out by the Steelers official social media team have shown Fitzpatrick at both Phase 1 and 2 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Fitzpatrick likely learned something from T.J. Watt’s contract negotiations a year ago, and is showing the Steelers he will show up even when talks might be at a standstill.
But how are things progressing with Fitzpatrick’s contract talks? Jeremy Fowler of ESPN recently updated key players’ contract talks, and Fitzpatrick made the list.
See what Fowler said about the Steelers’ top safety:
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have shown that first-round picks who become stars while on their roster will usually get rewarded a year out from free agency. T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and David DeCastro are among those who got extended before Week 1 of their fifth-year option season.
Fitzpatrick, one of the game’s top safeties, now falls into that category. But he also knows the Steelers operate on their own time, which means we should look ahead to sometime between July and the September kickoff. “They won’t be rushed into a deal,” a source said. Under recently retired GM Kevin Colbert, the Steelers also did not negotiate in-season.
Fitzpatrick will likely be aiming for Jamal Adams’ market-setting $17.5 million per year. He’s in the top five among safeties in interceptions since 2019 (11) and has 36 career pass deflections and two first-team All-Pro selections.
What further helps Fitzpatrick: The Steelers relented on their guarantee structures with Watt’s deal last year. Old Pittsburgh deals featured no guarantees beyond the signing bonus, but Watt has $80 million in guaranteed money on his four-year, $112 million deal.
Fitzpatrick is coming off a season where many fans were disappointed in his lack of splash plays. Here are his stats from 2021:
- Games: 16
- Total Tackles: 124
- Solo Tackles: 84
- Interceptions: 2
- Fumble Recoveries: 1
- Forced Fumbles: 1
- Pass Defense: 7
- Tackles For Loss (TFL): 1
Fitzpatrick might not have had the interceptions he had in 2019 or 2020, but he was also tasked with doing something he didn’t do in either of those seasons being a primary tackler for the team’s porous rush defense.
When it comes to being deserving of a new contract, Fitzpatrick would certainly fall high on that proverbial list. But when will a deal get done? As Fowler states, the team moves at their own pace with these negotiations, but the wrinkle of a new General Manager (GM) eventually coming into the fold will certainly make things interesting.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout OTAs and mandatory minicamp.