The Pittsburgh Steelers have had turnover this offseason in many ways. Not only will the offense be turning the keys over to a new quarterback since 2004, but the start of the Omar Khan era as General Manager (GM) has officially begun.
Many fans assumed it would remain status quo with Khan at the helm. After all, most internal hires equate to few changes from their predecessor, but Khan has made it clear he is going to do things his way.
While this might end up being an outlier, Khan wasted little time getting the Steelers’ top priority, All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, locked up for the next five seasons. During Fitzpatrick’s press conference the day after signing his new deal, he talked about how negotiations took place.
“That is just what Omar and Mr. Rooney really wanted to do. They reached out a few weeks ago and said they’re ready to start the negotiation process and we sent an offer, they sent an offer first, we went back and forth a little while. I guess this is when they wanted to get it done.”
Unlike last offseason when T.J. Watt and his agents went back and forth for the vast majority of the offseason, Fitzpatrick and his representation didn’t have to squabble with Khan and Rooney. In fact, the new deal made Fitzpatrick the highest paid safety in the NFL. Fitzpatrick talked about what that meant to him.
“You would like to be paid in that way and represented in that way.” Fitzpatrick told media present at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Thursday. “Somebody, it could be in a week from now, or it could be a year from now, somebody’s obviously gonna pass it up. You always want to raise the bar for the guys behind you. You want to raise the bar for the people in your own locker room. Mr. Rooney and Omar, they see the work that I put in and my play on field reflects that. They’re willing to make me that and obviously I’m appreciative.
“I think because I’ve done it there’s no pressure. That’s the standard that I hold myself to day-in and day-out. The standard that my teammates hold me to day-in and day-out. But no, I don’t think there’s any pressure. I mean obviously I’ve got to hold myself to that standard. But just the opportunity to prove that I am what I say I am.”
What some fans might not realize is how when the Steelers traded a first round draft pick for Fitzpatrick, they were getting a player who had never played the free safety position full-time. It was a learning process for the former Alabama standout.
“I think I evolved a lot. My first game as a Steeler in San Francisco was my first time really playing full-time free safety.” Fitzpatrick recalled. “My first few games in Miami I was kind of moving around a little bit and that was really the only time I played free safety before in the league. I played a few games in college. But I think from that time to now, I’ve learned the type of player that I am. I learned my strengths. I learned my weaknesses. I know what I need to work on. I know what I’m good at. And I feel like just being able to form my identity has really helped me evolve into the player that I am today. I’m still learning, still adapting, still growing, still trying to find new ways to get better and improve. But I think I’m a totally different player than I was a few years ago when I first got here.”
The switch from a roaming defensive back and pure free safety was one which not only was embraced by Fitzpatrick, but helped him form an identity within the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive system.
“I think it definitely helped me to form an identity because it is hard when you first get to a system and they ask you to move around. But part of that adapting is also learning other positions because once you get locked in, people know where you are. And we’ve kind of seen that happen the last year and a half. People know that and they get to choose not to throw there or look the other way when you get locked into one spot. We’re learning how to adapt to learn different positions and move around the field now that I’m comfortable and I know the type of player I am.”
The Steelers now have their three leaders, Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Fitzpatrick, all locked up for the next few seasons in hopes of building a dynamic defense capable of stealing games. The hope is Fitzpatrick becomes the playmaker he has been since joining the Steelers, and then some. With the financial aspect behind him now, all he has to focus on is playing winning football.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason and the start of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.