Minkah Fitzpatrick to start in Steelers' Week 3 matchup vs. 49ers
Pittsburgh's starting secondary will now feature a pair of 2018 first round picks
Mike Tomlin's "pipe dream" is about to become a reality.
Tomlin, who personally scouted new Steeler safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, knew that the former Alabama standout would be off the board by the time Pittsburgh was on the clock with the 28th pick. Fitzpatrick was ultimately selected by the Dolphins with the 11th overall pick, while the Steelers selected another safety, Terrell Edmunds, who is currently the team's starting strong safety.
On Sunday, less than a week, Tomlin will start Fitzpatrick for Pittsburgh's Week 3 matchup in San Francisco. Fitzpatrick will start alongside Edmunds, as the Steelers look to rebound following an 0-2 start.
"I went to Tuscaloosa twice," Tomlin said Tuesday about his pre-draft exposure to Fitzpatrick, via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There was a sense of readiness among us about his character and his football abilities. All of those boxes had been checked prior to the draft. We were excited about getting one of the top-notch safeties in that class. Now we have a tandem. Big picture, they'll get to grow together."
The Steelers gave up their first and fifth round picks in next year's draft, as well as a sixth round pick in the 2021 draft, to acquire Fitzpatrick, a versatile defensive back that played multiple positions for Miami. Along with acquiring Fitzpatrick, the Steelers also received the Dolphins' fourth round pick in the 2020 draft along with a seventh round pick in the 2021 draft.
Tomlin said that Sean Davis' injury -- Davis was placed on IR Tuesday as he deals with a torn labrum -- was one of the main reasons why the Steelers traded for Fitzpatrick. Tomlin also said that Fitzpatrick's versatility was among main factor that played into their decision. And while the Steelers plan to explore Fitzpatrick's many talents at some point, his focus for now is on free safety.
Pittsburgh may have pulled off this move even if Davis -- who is in the final year of his rookie contract -- was healthy. As Tomlin alluded to on Tuesday, the Steelers have long coveted his skillset. And, after watching his defense get carved up by Tom Brady and Russell Wilson in successive weeks (Brady and Wilson combined to complete 75 percent of their passes for 640 yards and six touchdowns with no picks), the Steelers were compelled to make a drastic move.
"He's a guy we needed badly," a team source told the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac shortly after news of the deal spread across social media on Monday night.
The acquisition of Fitzpatrick provides both tangible as well as intangible benefits. While the Steelers are getting a talented, 22-year-old defensive back that has a little under three years remaining on a rookie contract, Pittsburgh also sent a message that they are not throwing the 2019 season away despite placing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Monday. Despite losing Big Ben as well as their first three games, the Steelers, by trading for Fitzpatrick, showed that they still have faith in the team's current roster.
Fitzpatrick won't solve everything, obviously. Mason Rudolph, who made his NFL regular season debut last Sunday, will have to play well beyond his years if the Steelers have any hope of competing for a playoff spot. Pittsburgh's running game and complementary receivers will also have to wake up after their two-game slumber. Above all, Pittsburgh's defense will have to raise their game after being one of the league's worst units this far.
The trade for Fitzpatrick also represents the Steelers' philosophical foundation of how to build a championship team. Pittsburgh has never won a Super Bowl without an All-Pro caliber safety. They won four Super Bowls during the 1970s with Donnie Shell and Mike Wagner roaming the secondary. They won their two most recent Super Bowls with Troy Polamalu, a future Hall of Famer who was the greatest strong safety of his era.
While it may not fully pay off this season, the Steelers are hoping that they have found their next dominant safety that can -- at some point -- help bring home a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy.
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