The Steelers finally did it! That’s right, it was announced on Wednesday afternoon by several outlets that Pittsburgh inked safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to a new four-year contract extension that will pay him over $73 million with $36 million coming in the form of guaranteed money over the length of the deal.
I suppose I shouldn’t use words like “finally” to describe this deal, and that’s mainly because the negotiations between the Steelers, led by the new general manager, Omar Khan, and Fitzpatrick didn’t drag on until the 11th hour—or right before the start of the regular season, which was the case a year ago with the team and T.J. Watt.
The lack of apparent progress between the Steelers and Watt became a major concern and talking point for both the fans and the media last summer. The ongoing question was, would the Steelers, who had never been keen on guaranteeing money beyond the first year of a contract, break their own rule and set a new precedent for Watt?
The media wondered about this out loud. The fans wondered about this out loud (“Pay that man!” was a popular refrain on Twitter). Watt’s teammates even got in on the act by publicly pleading with their bosses to get a deal done. It wasn’t just about the guaranteed money, though. This was about guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars to a player, one who was their most valuable, true, but Watt certainly wasn’t a quarterback. He just so happened to be the most prolific pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL.
But the Steelers and Watt ultimately struck a deal (obviously), which did set a precedent—an $80 million in guaranteed money precedent. Would they continue down that road of breaking the bank and guaranteeing gobs of money in the future for star players?
The answer was a resounding “yes” with the Fitzpatrick deal. Fitzpatrick is now the highest-paid safety in NFL history (for now). The $36 million that the Steelers guaranteed him used to be the kind of money reserved for Ben Roethlisberger and only Ben Roethlisberger.
However, the Fitzpatrick deal, coming less than a year after the Watt record-setting contract, shows that the organization is willing to make new rules if it means keeping truly important and impactful players.
Pittsburgh now has its two most-valuable defenders inked to long-term deals that will keep them in black and gold for the duration of their primes—most likely.
That’s how you build a core. That’s how you set the foundation. That’s how you prepare yourself to be a major contender sooner rather than later. Furthermore, that’s how you create continuity and stability within your organization. Also, when the time comes to add a valuable piece during the next free-agent frenzy, this may demonstrate to a desirable prospect that this is the place to be if you want to win.
It remains to be seen if the Steelers are ever going to set a precedent and break open the piggy bank in a big way to bring outside free agents into the fold, but at least we now know that they’re still willing to do whatever it takes to hold onto their own.
As for the next talking point, when’s Diontae Johnson going to get paid?