The Pittsburgh Steelers made a highly controversial move when they traded their 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick on September 16. What made the trade so shocking was that Ben Roethlisberger had just gone down for the season with an elbow injury, and the Steelers were 0-2. If backup quarterback Mason Rudolph didn’t work out and the season fell apart, the first-rounder that Pittsburgh parted with could have become a top-five pick in next year’s NFL draft.
But the Steelers saw the chance to get a potentially elite young player to plug in on defense, and they took it. So far, that gamble has worked to perfection.
Fitzpatrick has been a perfect fit in Pittsburgh’s defense
“A couple weeks ago, I wasn’t in the right spot a couple times,” Minkah Fitzpatrick said about his first few weeks in Pittsburgh. “Coach challenged me. He said be in the right spot. I’ve been in the right spot. Everyone else has been in the right spot. Just make the play.”
Fitzpatrick certainly has been in the right spot. In his seven games with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 22-year-old has a staggering 34 tackles, eight passes defended, five interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He took that fumble recovery 43 yards for a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 17-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday; and also sealed the game with an interception.
It was his third straight game with an interception, making him the first Steeler since Troy Polamalu in 2008 to record a pick in three straight games. His interception the week before against the Indianapolis Colts was returned 96 yards for a touchdown, making him the first player since 1984 to record a defensive touchdown in back-to-back weeks for the Steelers.
All of these milestones in just seven games.
The more the Steelers win, the better this deal gets
In the very first game after the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, Pittsburgh lost to the San Francisco 49ers 24-20 to fall to 0-3 on the season. After defeating the Cincinnati Bengals and then losing in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers were 1-4. The Miami Dolphins front office had to be letting its imagination run wild with the prospect of the Dolphins having two picks in the Top 10 next season.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the Steelers have reeled off four straight wins to improve to 5-4 in 2019. Heading into Thursday Night Football on November 14, there are 15 teams that currently have a worse record than Pittsburgh does.
Five of Pittsburgh’s last seven games come against teams with losing records, too. Even if the Steelers finish 2019 in the middle of the pack with an 8-8 record and their draft pick winds up falling at around No. 15, this is a price the team would happily pay for a player of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s caliber.
This trade was a gamble worth taking
And that’s what made this trade such a smart gamble for Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick himself was the 11th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he’d already shown that he belonged in the NFL level with a productive rookie season in Miami in 2018.
In the worst-case scenario that the Steelers wound up tanking this season and ending up with a pick in the No. 5 to No. 7 range in next year’s draft, they were still getting a young, known commodity in exchange for that pick. They might have lost a slight bit of value on the deal, but not much.
But in most scenarios that Pittsburgh at least fought its way up to around No. 10 to No. 15 in the draft, the trade would essentially be a wash, as the Steelers would be getting a player they loved for the foreseeable future at around the position he was taken in the draft.
And then there are the best-case scenarios; that Minkah Fitzpatrick becomes an overnight legend on defense and the Steelers win enough games to make the trade look totally lopsided in their favor. Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans, that appears to be the scenario we are living in.