On the surface, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to deal a first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick reeks of desperation. They are 0-2, just lost their franchise quarterback for the year and see the Super Bowl window closing fast. The stage was set for Pittsburgh to get a high pick in 2020.
But the Steelers have never done business with draft positioning in mind. Win now is always the culture. The Steelers feel strongly enough about Fitzpatrick’s talent -- and affordable rookie contract with an average base salary of $2.1 million for the next three seasons -- to justify any pick the team could muster in April’s draft.
The move says a lot about where the Steelers are, and where they will be:
Roethlisberger isn’t retiring
Despite an elbow injury that could take the better part of 12 months from which to recover, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely back for next season. He’s not a lock to start Week 1, but Roethlisberger said in his statement Monday he’s honoring all three years of his deal.
The defense needs the help
As news broke midweek that the Dolphins were willing to deal Fitzpatrick, the 11th overall pick in 2018, I was told the Steelers wouldn’t be involved in the preliminary wave for him. Giving up a first was too steep for a franchise that values such capital.
But giving up 61 points through the first two weeks with what should be an improved defense must have pressed Pittsburgh to negotiate harder. They are tired of watching their safeties almost make plays. Terrell Edmunds’ athletic gifts should turn into consistent performance eventually, but they haven't yet.
Fitzpatrick gives the Steelers a versatile safety who can help cover the slot and erase mistakes on the back end. He also can serve as a potential replacement for Sean Davis, who’s a free agent in March. A three-man safety lineup of Fitzpatrick, Edmunds and Davis is much better than what the Steelers rolled out in a 33-3 loss to New England in Week 1.
The defense now has eight former first-round picks in its starting lineup. If Mike Tomlin can’t make that work …
This speaks loudly about Rudolph
The Steelers had no intentions of selecting a quarterback in the top 10 next year despite Roethlisberger’s injury. General manager Kevin Colbert believes Mason Rudolph is a first-round talent, and the team is clinging to that belief with this move.
Teammates say they believe in Rudolph and their words don’t feel empty. He prepares hard, and that has earned their respect.
But that outside chance makes this move incredibly risky. If the season tanks and the rebuild is on, the Steelers just traded away a potential replacement quarterback.
But the Steelers will sell this: We have two good quarterbacks already. That promotes bold ideas.