The Pittsburgh Steelers traded two first-round picks this offseason, albeit under very different circumstances. It will be interesting to see over time which player they were able to get for those high-value items will prove to be the more valuable.
The first one they gave up was to move up in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. By giving up their second-round pick and a third-round pick in 2020, the Steelers were able to move up from 20 in the first round to 10 with the Denver Broncos in a move that allowed them to draft inside linebacker Devin Bush, who has been a day-one starter and who has six takeaways in six games so far.
The second time they gave up a first-round pick was after the second week of the season. They sent their first-rounder (and flipped some mid- to late-round picks) to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for second-year former 11th-overall safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. He was a plug-and-play starter in spite of the fact that he had just days to settle into the defense.
Both moves were highly uncharacteristic, but the latter, at least in terms of it happening in the season, was nearly unprecedented. The Steelers actually used to trade first-round picks away entirely a fair bit in the pre-Chuck Noll era, but it was typically for aging stars, and not young prospects of high pedigree.
The reason that they made this move was because of Sean Davis’ injury, though. Even with Ben Roethlisberger gone for the season at that point, Pittsburgh wasn’t ready to concede the season, and so found a new starter when Fitzpatrick was made available.
“It was an unusual set of circumstances, but the bottom line is we were happy to have Minkah”, Steelers president Art Rooney II said of the trade when he appeared on Ian Rapoport’s podcast during the week. “He’s playing well. I think he’s made a difference in our defense, and our defense is playing well, so we’re happy he’s on our team”.
He did made an immediate impact, recording an interception and forcing a fumble in his first game. He also helped to influence another interception in a game against the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago. With each passing game, the team has asked more and more from him, and he has generally delivered.
Through four games in Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick has 21 tackles with three passes defensed, an interception and a forced fumble. But the biggest difference he has made has been with his play and coverage at the back end, taking away lanes and discouraging quarterbacks to make certain throws.
Davis was likely to leave in free agency after this season was over anyway. Fitzpatrick is under contract for at least the next two years after this one, with the fifth-year option a card they can play as well, and it’s almost assured that they will look to sign him to a long-term extension when the time comes. So far, he has proven to be worth the cost to get such a talented player just 18 games into his NFL career, and it doesn’t sound like the organization is having any buyer’s remorse.