Early on Tuesday, April 18th, amid the noise as we inch closer to NFL draft day, the first notable trade in a while came through. The Rams will be trading wide receiver Allen Robinson, along with a seventh-round pick to the Steelers for a seventh-rounder in return.
This is an interesting trade, but it’s not all that surprising. Los Angeles is in the midst of a clear rebuild, and are jettisoning any player with an ounce of value left. Robinson falls in that category. Interestingly, the Rams will still be taking on $10.25 million of Robinson’s $15 million salary. Essentially, the Steelers got Robinson for nothing.
So, how is Robinson going to fit in Pittsburgh?
How Has Allen Robinson Looked Recently?
One of the reasons the Steelers were able to essentially steal Allen Robinson is because his value is so low. It’s a bit surprising the Rams were even able to find a taker for Robinson, even though they had to pay a large portion of his salary anyway.
In his first year in Inglewood, Robinson played in just 10 games, and finished with only 33 catches. Robinson had 339 yards, three touchdowns, and about 10.3 yards per attempt.
Robinson’s season wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was not on par with expectations. Robinson signed a three-year, $46 million deal last offseason, and his availability, as well as production, did not match that price tag. With that in mind, it makes sense the Rams will be carrying a portion of his contract next year.
What Can Allen Robinson Bring to the Steelers?
Robinson has been a great receiver for a large portion of his career. However, due to some injuries in recent years, he’s lost a step. With this in mind, he’s been forced to adjust his game.
As receivers get older and their bodies wear down, we often see a shift in their game. They rely less on speed and strength, but more on route-running and other, more technical skills. One position with a huge emphasis on route running is at slot receiver, which would be an excellent role for Robinson.
Robinson’s route running is terrific, as you’ll see below;
Robinson has seen less and less work in the slot in recent years, but he still managed to play there on 34% of his snaps in 2022. Throughout his entire career, he played in the slot for a whopping 71% of his snaps. Robinson hasn’t played in the slot much recently, as the Rams used him almost exclusively on the outside last year. Still, he’s got more than enough experience to produce in that role again.
Just How Much of an Upgrade is he?
This seems like a low-risk, high-reward pickup for the Steelers. They don’t need Robinson to be the star-caliber player he used to be. After all, Pittsburgh already has Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Pat Freiermuth is a solid target at tight end, as well. So, coming into the season, Robinson should only be the third or fourth option for Kenny Pickett.
Pittsburgh is also only paying about $5 million of Robinson’s contract, with Los Angeles paying the rest. Considering his low price tag, the lowered expectations at this point in his career, his veteran leadership, and his skill set that is still more than capable, it’s hard to dislike this trade from Pittsburgh’s standpoint.
We all knew it was coming. No one knew the when, why, or how, but it was inevitable that the Steelers would turn to Kenny Pickett to be their new starting quarterback. After three and a half weeks of putrid offensive showings with Mitch Trubisky at QB, coach Mike Tomlin had seen enough.
Coming out of halftime against the Jets last Sunday, it was Kenny Pickett time. The 24-year-old rookie QB was finally getting his chance to show why the Steelers chose him to be their new franchise savior. Naturally, what did he do on his first throw? Throw an ill-advised deep ball that is intercepted by Jets safety Jordan Whitehead.
Pickett would go on to throw two more picks, one of which was a hail-mary (that traveled over 60 yards in the air!). He did, however, complete 10 of his 13 passes for 120 yards on the day, meaning he technically completed all of his passes — just some of them were to the Jets.
Obviously, throwing three interceptions in your first game isn’t ideal. But even with the mistakes, he provided a spark that the offense had lacked this season. He scored twice on the ground in impressive fashion, and generally looked the part as an NFL starting QB. There will be plenty of highs with a fair show of lows as he navigates his rookie season, but Kenny Pickett was made for this opportunity with the Steelers.
How a New Jersey-born kid made Pittsburgh his home
Kenny Pickett’s journey to the NFL was far from prophesized, as he was just a 3-star recruit and the 21st ranked prospect in the state of New Jersey in 2017. His family has a strong sports background: his father as an All-American linebacker at Shippensburg, and his mother and sister as excellent soccer players at Kutztown and East Stroudsburg respectively.
Those athletic genes certainly translated to the young quarterback, as he shined in high school at Ocean Township. Other schools were interested in him, but he wanted to continue playing with all the kids he had grown up with, according to a Trib Live report. That loyalty is a trait that would serve him well in the future.
As he became more successful as a high school QB, offers from multiple D1 schools began rolling in. He originally committed to the University of Temple in April of 2016, but after receiving new offers from Boston College and Pittsburgh, he reopened his recruitment. He would then visit Pitt on two occasions, with the final one leading to a commitment.
Pittsburgh’s head coach Pat Narduzzi was instrumental in getting Pickett to sign with the Panthers. From the previously mentioned Trib Live article by Jerry Dipaola: “There’s one reason (Pickett picked Pitt),” Ken Sr. said. “Coach Narduzzi. North Carolina, Missouri, Boston College, Iowa, their head coaches were not as involved as coach Narduzzi.”
The fact that Pickett prioritized the school whose head coach was the most involved says a lot about his mentality. He wants to be in a situation where the people at the top have their hands in every part of the process. His relationship with Narduzzi would lead them both to great success in the future.
Kenny Pickett arrives in Pittsburgh with a bang
When Kenny Pickett arrived on campus for his freshman year in 2017, not much was expected of him. He was behind two older quarterbacks in USC transfer Max Browne and sophomore Ben DiNucci. With neither QB ahead of him being a sure thing, Pickett was kept active for his freshman campaign.
Browne and DiNucci would split time for the first half of the season before Browne suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. That elevated Pickett to being the primary backup, where he would play sparingly until relieving DiNucci in a loss vs Virginia Tech. Prior to Pitt’s final game against the #2 ranked Miami Hurricanes, Pickett would be named the starter.
Asking a true freshman to lead your team against the #2 team in the country is quite a decision, but it’s one that would pay off for coach Narduzzi and the entire Pitt program. Pickett would have his first of many signature moments as a Panther, leading the team to a 24-14 upset over the Hurricanes.
Pickett finished with 193 yards and a score through the air. He also added 60 yards and two more scores on the ground. His biggest play came on fourth and five late in the fourth quarter as he faked play action and booted around the edge, out-running the defense and diving for a touchdown.
That performance would be the start of something special for Pickett and the Pitt program.
The 2018-2020 seasons: Kenny Pickett builds the foundation for the Panthers success
Kenny Pickett was the unquestioned starter heading into his sophomore season in 2018. Pittsburgh would finish the regular season 7-5 and earned a berth in the ACC Championship. The #2 Clemson Tigers crushed them 42-10, however. They would go on to lose their bowl game as well, falling to Stanford 14-13 in the Sun Bowl.
Pickett had a pedestrian 1,969 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and six picks. Despite the mediocre numbers, Pickett made improvements to his game that would show up in following seasons.
Pitt’s 2019 season would also end with a 7-5 regular season record, but Pickett improved greatly upon his sophomore season numbers. Pitt would go on to win their first bowl game under coach Pat Narduzzi, defeating Eastern Michigan 34-30. Pickett finished with 3,098 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and nine picks. The touchdown numbers kept many college football fans from viewing him as a top-flight QB, but Pickett was only getting better as he got more experience.
Disaster struck in 2020, with the entire world dealing with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pitt would only play 11 games, finishing 6-5 and opting out of a bowl game opportunity. Pickett missed two games due to injury, but still finished with 2,408 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine picks as a senior. It was his best season on a per-game basis, helping him generate NFL interest.
Despite the potential to jump to the NFL, he had the opportunity to return for another season using a Covid redshirt. The decision he ultimately made changed his life in more ways than he could have imagined.
The 2021 season: Kenny Pickett’s gamble pays off
Kenny Pickett had the biggest decision of his life to make following the 2020 season. Make the jump to the NFL as a likely mid-to-late round draft pick? Or return to Pitt to finish what he started? He opted to return to Pitt and try his hand at winning an ACC title, hopefully boosting his draft stock in the process. To say that that decision worked out for him would be a huge understatement.
Pickett led Pittsburgh to a 10-2 regular season record and his second berth in the ACC Championship. Pitt would go on to defeat Wake Forest 45-21 for their first ACC title. Pitt was ranked as high as #12 during the season. Pickett’s numbers exploded in his final season, finishing with 4,319 yards passing, 42 touchdowns and just seven picks.
His performance earned him a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist. He would finish third behind Alabama’s Bryce Young and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. Pickett chose to opt-out of the Peach Bowl where Pitt would fall to #11 Michigan State 31-21.
Pickett’s explosive 2021 season was unexpected to say the least. He more than doubled his career passing touchdown totals in just one season (39 to 81). What stood out most, though, was his accuracy and ability to make plays on the move, something the NFL covets more and more every season.
Quarterbacks who can create offense when the play breaks down or nobody gets open are worth their weight in gold. Pickett checking that box in his final season was huge for his pro potential.
The 2022 NFL Draft: The Kenny Pickett hands controversy
The NFL draft process was pretty uneventful for Pickett, playing well overall at the Senior Bowl. He also had very solid combine and pro day performances. The biggest question he faced had nothing to do with his play on the field. Not even the fact he was an older prospect (he turned 24 this past June). No, instead it was about his hand size.
The general consensus is that players with a hand size less than 9 inches may have trouble gripping the football. With Pickett playing quarterback, that is literally every play. Pickett clocked in at 8.5 inches at the combine and a slightly better 8.625 at his pro day.
The fact that he wears gloves on both hands didn’t help quell those concerns. Pickett has said that he just prefers the way it feels while throwing with a glove. Either way, it was ultimately nothing more than a slight knock on an otherwise good pre-draft process for Pickett.
Kenny Pickett soars to the top of a weak QB class
After being considered a mid-to-late round pick prior to 2021, he was now in position to be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL draft class. Being labeled the most “pro-ready” QB is usually scout speak for being the safe, but lower ceiling option.
For Pickett, that label was accurate — but a bit misleading. While he was the most prepared for the jump to the NFL, he is a great athlete (9.55 RAS score) and showed plenty of playmaking ability in college.
While other passers like Liberty’s Malik Willis and Ole Miss’s Matt Corral had more perceived upside, they were much farther away from being ready to play. Teams with an immediate need at the position, like the Panthers and Steelers, were popular destinations for Pickett in mock drafts for a reason.
Ultimately, Pickett fell all the way to pick 20 in the first round. The Steelers were on the clock, and everyone knew they wanted a quarterback to replace the retired Ben Roethlisberger. Every QB was available to them, but they went with the kid they watched grow up next door for years.
Kenny Pickett will be asked to save Pittsburgh once again
I remember watching the draft at a friend’s place as I watched pick after pick go by with no quarterbacks being drafted. I knew that Pittsburgh wanted and needed a QB. They may have signed Mitch Trubisky in free agency, but he was a stop-gap option, at best.
I scouted the top QBs and came away unimpressed by what I saw, but liked the upside of Malik Willis. He was raw and had a long way to go. But I didn’t want the Steelers to settle for Kenny Pickett just because he was the most prepared to play.
Once the pick came through, I remember feeling a mix of disappointment and frustration. Why bother taking a guy who may never be a top QB even at his best? After the draft, I decided to go back and watch as much of Pickett as I could. The more I watched of him and the more I read about his story, the more the pick made sense.
The things that stand out about Kenny Pickett are all the things the Steelers have always stood for: toughness, playmaking, leadership, and football intelligence. Pickett may not be the most talented thrower of the football, but he uses every bit of arm talent he has to make the tough throws. It doesn’t look as pretty as guys like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert, but he gets the job done. Pickett has also become a very accurate passer, after struggling in that area early in his college career.
He may have peaked late in college, but I don’t think he is done growing as a player. He will never have the physical traits of Willis, but I think their ultimate upside is not that far apart. The bottom-line is this: Kenny Pickett is the perfect person to be the Steelers next franchise quarterback. Even if there may be more talented options available in the coming years, finding a player who is a better fit for Pittsburgh is unlikely.
Kenny Pickett looks to start with an upset once again
There will be bumps in the road of course. There will be games this year as Kenny Pickett gets comfortable that he may be the reason the Steelers lose. None of that will matter though if he becomes the QB that he and the coaching staff believes he can be. Ironically, his first career start this Sunday will be against the powerhouse Buffalo Bills. Starting his first career game against a heavily favored opponent is nothing new for Pickett.
That Miami game his freshman year must be running through his head as he prepares to try and upset the Bills. The Steelers are 14-point underdogs for the first time since the NFL merger in 1970 this Sunday. The betting line for his upset against Miami? You guessed it, right around that 14-point mark on most sports books. I’m not saying that the Steelers will defeat the Bills this week. If they did, though, it would be nothing new for Kenny Pickett.
At 1-3, a few surprise wins may not be enough to compete in a tough AFC North. Even so, winning this year was going to be hard either way. Steelers fans should just relax and try and enjoy watching Kenny Pickett grow. I know I will be.
The Big Ben and Joe Flacco days are over in the AFC North now, but it is still one of the closest divisions in the NFL. Four teams with elite superstars believe they can win it this year. Let’s take a look at what each team did this offseason, and what to expect from each AFC North team in our final preview before Sunday’s kickoff.
AFC North Preview
4. Cleveland Browns
Key losses – WR Rashard Higgins, CB M.J. Stewart, FB Andy Janovich, WR Jarvis Landry, TE Austin Hooper, C J.C. Tretter, QB Baker Mayfield, QB Case Keenum, LB Mack Wilson
Key additions – WR Jakeem Grant, QB Jacoby Brissett, QB Deshaun Watson, DT Taven Bryan, P Corey Bojorquez, C Ethan Pocic, WR Amari Cooper, DE Chase Winovich, CB Martin Emerson, LB Alex Wright, WR David Bell, K Cade York
Re-signed – DE Jadeveon Clowney (1-year), S Ronnie Harrison (1-year). RB D’Ernest Johnson (1-year), LB Anthony Walker Jr. (1-year)
Extensions – TE David Njoku (4-years, $56 million), CB Denzel Ward (5-years, $100 million), QB Deshaun Watson (5-years, $230 million)
Needless to say, it was a rough 2021 for the Browns as they finished 8-9. Even so, this off-season could’ve been even worse. They brought in some talent, but also criticism, by trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the season after receiving a huge contract and that could prove to be detrimental.
After a season ranked 18th in the NFL, the Browns offense could get off to a rough start. Due to Watson’s suspension, they will have Jacoby Brissett starting under center. They have a top-tier offensive line, but Brissett’s inability to be a quality starter will hold the offense back. They brought in receiver Amari Cooper to help, but with Donovan Peoples-Jones as your #2, they will be a bottom-tier group.
The line will help in the run game though. With the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, they should be a top rushing team again. Harrison Bryant is back to try and prove he can be the long-term starter at tight end. This offense will struggle with Brissett, but should be top-ten with Watson.
The defense ranked third last season in total defense and will look to continue to repeat that success. The line has elite defensive end Myles Garrett, but I’m not sold on the other pieces there. Garrett can bolster them to a top-15 group, maximum. They have a nice linebacker room with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah next to Anthony Walker, who should have a good season this year.
Their secondary is very good, with Denzel Ward being a star at cornerback. Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome II played great in coverage last season and could improve. The safety tandem is solid, even after a rough season last year from John Johnson III. This defense could fall from its ranking last season but should still be top-15.
This team would’ve been a playoff contender if it wasn’t for the Watson suspension. Since it happened, I have them finishing 6-11, and 3-3 against the AFC North. A bad start will hinder their chances.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Key losses – WR James Washington, ILB Joe Schobert, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, OG Trai Turner
Key additions – OG James Daniels, ILB Myles Jack, C Mason Cole, QB Mitchell Trubisky, CB Levi Wallace, WR/ST Gunner Olszewski, S Damontae Kazee, DT Larry Ogunjobi, OL Jesse Davis, LB Malik Reed, QB Kenny Pickett, WR George Pickens, DL Demarvin Leal
Re-signed – CB Ahkello Witherspoon (2-years), S Terrell Edmunds (1-year)
Extensions – WR Diontae Johnson (2-years, $36 million)
Ben Roethlisberger’s last season ended after going 9-7-1, squeaking into the playoffs. They move now to quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett to compete for the job. Head coach Mike Tomlin is back looking to keep his streak alive of not having a losing season. However, it will be tough to do that in a loaded AFC.
Big Ben’s last year was anything but pretty. They finished 23rd in total offense, and they may have gotten worse. Wideout Juju Smith-Schuster left for Kansas City, and we don’t know how good — or not good — Trubisky or Pickett will be. Trubisky is starting week one, but with a bottom-three offensive line, he’ll have a tough time keeping the job.
Najee Harris is looking to improve on his 3.9 yards per carry last season. He showed signs of being a superstar in this league and will need to improve to keep that “future superstar” narrative.
The receiving corps is solid with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They’re getting help from rookie receiver George Pickens, who has looked good so far. They’ll also have Pat Freiermuth at tight end, and he is looking to prove he can be the long-term option there.
The defense took a step back last season, and I expect them to remain in a similar spot. They ranked 24th in the league, but have one of the best pass rushes in the league. T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward lead the way as some of the NFL’s best at their positions. A top-five line is followed by an improved linebacker room. Bringing in Myles Jack to play alongside Devin Bush could be a real force this season.
The secondary is what hurts the Steelers, and in a pass heavy league, that is not good. Levi Wallace is with Cameron Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon, which creates a lackluster cornerback group. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds is a great duo at safety, but I’m just not sure they can make up for the cornerbacks.
A new quarterback behind a bad offensive line will lead to a bad offense in 2022, and I believe Mike Tomlin’s streak will end. I have the Steelers going 7-10 after finishing 2-4 against the AFC North. The only chance at the playoffs is their defense carrying them.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Key losses – OT Riley Reiff, TE C.J. Uzomah, OG Quinton Spain
Key additions – OT La’el Collins, C Ted Karras, TE Hayden Hurst, OG Alex Cappa, S Daxton Hill, CB Cam Taylor-Britt, DL Zachary Carter, C Ted Karras
Re-signed – CB Eli Apple (1-year), DT Josh Tupou (1-year), WR Stanley Morgan (2-years), QB Brandon Allen (1-year), Jessie Bates (Franchise Tag), DT B.J. Hill (3-years)
Extensions – HC Zac Taylor (5-years)
The Bengals reached the Super Bowl last season, and head coach Zac Taylor was rewarded with a 5-year extension. Even after last year’s run, they added more talent to their roster. Yet, they are still not looked at as real contenders. They finished 10-7 last season, so we’ll have to see if they can improve on that.
The offense is almost identical to last season with quarterback Joe Burrow leading the way. They finished 13th in the NFL last season in total offense after a monster season by Ja’Marr Chase. He is the center of one of the top receiving corps in the league. Burrow and Chase have the highest expectations for a QB-WR duo this season.
The offensive line has improved over the years, and is finally top-ten. They spent big there in free agency, and it should pay off. Three big moves in La’el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa will help open up holes for running back Joe Mixon. This offense is going to keep getting better as their guys get more experience.
The Bengals finished 18th in total defense after ranking 26th in passing defense. They should still be solid against the run with great linebackers and defensive line. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are looking to build off a strong 2021 as the starting linebackers. The strong season helped lead them to a fifth-ranked finish against the run.
The secondary is much improved with rookie safety Daxton Hill coming in. He will work with and next to an amazing duo of Jessie Bates III and Von Bell. Mike Hilton led the corners, and Chidobe Awuzie showed he can be the #2 in Cincy. Eli Apple has been inconsistent, but provides some help behind Hilton and Awuzie.
The national media isn’t sold on the Bengals, and neither am I. However, they will make the playoffs at 11-6, while going 4-2 against the AFC North. It was a surprise to see a Super Bowl run last year, and I would be surprised again this season.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Key losses – WR Marquise Brown, C Bradley Bozeman, CB Tavon Young, LB Chris Board, S Deshon Elliott, WR Sammy Watkins, CB Anthony Averett, P Sam Koch, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, DC Don Martindale
Key additions – S Marcus Williams, OT Morgan Moses, DT Michael Pierce, RB Mike Davis, CB Kyle Fuller, RB Kenyan Drake, S Kyle Hamilton, C Tyler Linderbaum, OLB David Ojabo, DT Travis Jones, P Jordan Stout
Re-signed – FB Patrick Richard (3-years), ILB Josh Bynes (1-year), DE Calais Campbell (2-years), DE Justin Houston (1-year)
Extensions – K Justin Tucker (4-years, $24 million), HC John Harbaugh (3-years)
It was a tough season for the Ravens last year, as they finished 8-9 and last in the AFC North. It felt like injury after injury for them, but now they are back and healthy. They traded away wideout Marquise Brown, as he wasn’t loving his time in Baltimore. With Lamar healthy and ready to go, they are looking to make it back to the playoffs.
Baltimore ranked sixth in total offense last season behind another great rushing attack. Lamar Jackson is looking to return to MVP form after a battle-filled 2021. Their offensive line has the potential to be great with Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses as the starting tackles. This will help the run-heavy Ravens wear down defenses with running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Davis.
The receiver room got weaker with the trade of Brown, but they still have some guys to watch. Rashod Bateman showed flashes of being able to be a #1 WR, but Devin Duvernay and Demarcus Robinson behind him could hold the group back. Tight end Mark Andrews is looking to continue being elite, as he’ll open up the field for Lamar.
The defense struggled last year, ranking 24th in total defense. The secondary should be back to being elite with Marcus Peters coming back from missing all of last season. With one of the best corners in Marlon Humphrey next to him, the cornerbacks are looking like the best group in the league. Marcus Williams joins the safety group alongside rookie Kyle Hamilton to create a scary tandem.
The defensive line is still solid with Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce. I’m waiting for Patrick Queen’s monster season, and it could be this year. The linebacker room is above average with Josh Bynes next to him. This defense is healthy again and should be top-five in the league.
I believe people are forgetting how good Lamar Jackson is. They are contenders, when healthy, and we’re going to be reminded about that this season. I have the Ravens finishing 12-5 after going 2-4 against the AFC North.
The Steelers and wide receiver Diontae Johnson have agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $36.71 million, per Mike Garafolo. The deal comes after Johnson took the T.J Watt-style “hold in” approach so far this camp, working by himself while avoiding team practices.
The deal keeps Johnson under team control until 2024, where he can possibly try his hand at free agency. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to return on a new deal after that.
What this contract means for Diontae Johnson, Steelers
Getting Johnson to agree to a below-market deal even after other 2019 draft picks (D.K Metcalf, A.J Brown, Deebo Samuel just to name a few) all received $20+ million per season on their new deals is huge for new GM Omar Khan.
Johnson is far from a perfect player, but his impact for a QB room who is young and unproven cannot be understated. He has been the #1 target for the offense the past two seasons for a reason.
Johnson wins often and early against man coverage with elite quickness and route running savvy. That will be a must against teams trying to load the box to stop Najee Harris. He will also help the other receivers by pulling coverage away from them.
Johnson isn’t as complete a receiver or as dominant as some of his fellow 2019 draft picks, which is likely why he falls shy of their contract price tags. He has also had a few games in his career where he struggles to do anything right out of nowhere.
Overall, this deal makes a ton of sense for both sides. Johnson gets a hefty raise for the next few seasons while still being under 30 when the deal is up.
The Steelers meanwhile retain their top target from the past two seasons to help develop their new quarterbacks. He will especially help first-round pick Kenny Pickett adjust to the speed of the NFL by giving him somewhere to go with the ball early in plays. Hard not to be happy with this deal as a Steelers fan.
Minkah Fitzpatrick was never going anywhere, but Steelers fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that their star safety has a new deal. It is a four-year, $73.6 million deal tying him to Pittsburgh for the next five seasons, making him the highest-paid safety in NFL history.
Fitzpatrick has been a force for the Steelers since being acquired from the Dolphins in 2019. He has forced 14 combined turnovers and bringing range not seen in the secondary since HOFer Troy Polamalu.
He was forced into a different role last season and his playmaking ability wasn’t featured as often. Despite that, he helped hold an injured defense together enough to earn the Steelers a wildcard spot.
Now with a healthier (and deeper) defense heading into 2022, Fitzpatrick will be able to return to being a true ball-hawking free safety. If the defense can return to 2019 form, Pittsburgh could have a legit shot at another playoff season.
What the Minkah Fitzpatrick deal could mean moving forward
Looking past the on-field ramifications, the timing of this deal was a bit surprising. The Steelers have always been known to play hard ball with even their best players. Even 2021 DPOY TJ Watt was barely signed prior to the season last year. As good as Minkah Fitzpatrick is, you would think it would have been the other way around.
This deal coming before training camp tells me that new GM Omar Khan may want to do things a bit differently. He may have been with the Steelers for 20 years, but he doesn’t want to just keep the status quo. Being more player-friendly with how contract talks go would be a welcome change in the modern NFL.
The Steelers are entering a new era, and Khan knows it. Adjusting how they do business, even just a little, is something that needs to happen. This deal for Minkah Fitzpatrick could be the first move that signals that shift. If so, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player.