Fitzpatrick had to make his exit early into the team’s loss to the Jaguars back in October with a hamstring injury. Pittsburgh didn’t think they would need to place its veteran safety on IR, hoping to see him return sooner rather than later, but after four weeks without their vocal leader, gaining an extra roster spot by placing him on IR would’ve been the preferred move in retrospect.
The extended absence is the first of Fitzpatrick’s storied career. In the five and a half seasons until this absence, Fitzpatrick has appeared in 86 of a possible 89 games, starting in 81. Fitpatrick had never missed consecutive games either, with the three absences being one-game situations. Even when the former Dolphin was traded two weeks into the season from Miami, he was in black and yellow six days later without missing a snap.
In Fitzpatrick’s first multi-game absence, the team had to promote practice squad safety Trenton Thompson to the active roster. Keanu Neal and Elijah Riley were filling in the first few weeks before finding their way to IR. Thompson has performed well for being thrown into the fire, but the Steelers will be excited to return Fitzpatrick next to strong safety Damontae Kazee this weekend.
While Michael Thomas recovers from a knee injury, the Saints are turning to a familiar face. Marquez Callaway is back with the Saints after bouncing around the NFL in 2023. The wideout wasn’t re-signed by the Saints following the 2022 campaign, and he’s since spent time with the Broncos and Raiders. The former UDFA spent the first three seasons of his career in New Orleans, hauling in 83 catches for 1,069 yards and seven touchdowns.
Eric Rowe has found a new home after getting cut by the Panthers practice squad back in September. Rowe earned a pair of Super Bowl rings during his three-year stint in New England, and he followed that up with a three-year stint in Miami. Rowe got into 14 games (six starts) for the Dolphins in 2022, finishing with 56 tackles and two sacks.
The Packers will soon be getting some reinforcement on defense, as the team designated safety Darnell Savage Jr. for return from injured reserve today. The defensive back has missed the last four games while recovering from a calf injury. The former first-round pick started all six of his appearances to begin the season, collecting 34 tackles. The fifth-year starter will provide the Packers with a welcome boost when he inevitably returns to the field.
It seems like Green Bay is already preparing for Savage’s return, as the team moved on from another defensive back. Dallin Leavitt spent the past year-plus with the Packers, with the veteran joining the organization following a four-year stint with the Raiders to begin his career. Leavitt got into all 17 games for the Packers in 2022, with all of his snaps coming on special teams. The veteran has seen a handful of defensive snaps in 2023, collecting two tackles in 10 games.
Murphy has missed the last five games for the Cardinals while dealing with a back issue, so while it’s not necessarily a further setback for Arizona, the transaction indicates that Murphy will miss the rest of the season before going into free agency. With Murphy absent, the Cardinals have started veteran Antonio Hamilton across from Marco Wilson.
6:00pm: After undergoing an appendectomy to deal with the appendicitis Fitzpatrick suffered through in walkthroughs today, the two-time All-Pro safety is expected to miss multiple weeks in recovery, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Steelers will want Fitzpatrick back on the field as soon as possible, but typically, appendectomies have resulted in missing more than one week. Schefter points at the most recent major player to undergo the procedure as an example. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow underwent the surgery just before training camp and missed two-and-a-half weeks.
A similar-length absence would see Fitzpatrick miss tomorrow’s game and next weekend’s matchup vs the Bengals. An extra day means that he could return in time for the team’s Monday night game in Indianapolis the week after, but that’s an extremely optimistic timeline.
Behind Norwood, whom we mentioned below as the likely replacement, Pittsburgh recently returned Damontae Kazee from IR. They’ll also have Miles Killebrew and the practice squad elevation, Riley.
Fitzpatrick is set to miss his first game of the season and just the second game of his career. Despite the team’s struggles this year, Fitzpatrick has maintained a high level of play. He has been all over the defensive backfield this year racking up six passes defensed along with three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Being only halfway through the season, Fitzpatrick is on track for career highs in both numbers, assuming he can make a quick return from his appendicitis.
In the lone game Fitzpatrick has missed before this, which occurred last season, the Steelers started then-rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood in his place. Norwood had already made two starts at the time, being one of the first defensive backs off the bench in packages that called for five or six defensive backs, but that was his first game playing 100% of the team’s defensive snaps and playing specifically in Fitzpatrick’s role. The Steelers’ pass defense struggled that day in a loss to the Chargers in which quarterback Justin Herbert passed for nearly 400 yards. It’s hard to blame the loss on Norwood’s stand-in performance, but considering the Steelers finished 2021 as a top-10 passing defense, one can infer some importance concerning Fitzpatrick’s absence. This year, Norwood started in place of an injured Terrell Edmunds in a Week 5 matchup against the Bills. Again, correlation does not exactly equal causation, but the team’s pass defense once again struggled as quarterback Josh Allen passed for 424 yards and four touchdowns on only 20 completions.
The return of Watt should be heralded in the Steel City as a giant addition to the defense. Outside of outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, the Steelers have struggled to produce an effective pass rush. Pittsburgh will gladly welcome pack their star defender who produced 22.5 sacks in only 15 games last season. Returning the reigning Defensive Player of the Year back to the field may not totally make up for the absence of Fitzpatrick, but it sure helps.
Jackson has yet to make his Steelers debut after being traded from the Commanders 11 days ago, and his debut will have to wait at least four more games after being placed on IR. Jackson had already missed the past three games for Washington while dealing with a back injury. Even though the season is only half over, the Steelers are far enough back in the division race that there is no sense in rushing Jackson to return from a back injury before he’s ready.
Lastly, in response to Fitzpatrick’s absence, the Steelers have elevated safety Elijah Riley from the practice squad for this weekend’s game against the Saints.
The Steelers had a number of difficult decisions to make leading up to the 53-man roster deadline, including the status of Mason Rudolph. The team ended up holding on to the quarterback, but the front office still had to cut a number of players to get to the roster limit:
Marcus Allen, a 2018 fifth-round pick, appeared in 33 games for Pittsburgh over the past four seasons. Justin Layne was a 2019 third-round pick by the Steelers, with the majority of his 43 appearances coming on special teams. Anthony McFarland was also a former Steelers draft pick, while Trent Scott was brought in this offseason to compete for an OL spot. Joe Haeg started two of his 12 appearances for the Steelers in 2021.
Henry Mondeaux spent the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, getting into 26 total games (two starts). After mostly seeing a special teams role during his rookie campaign, the defensive tackle saw more opportunities on defense in 2021, finishing with 16 tackles and two sacks. Buddy Johnson was a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft. The linebacker got into four games as a rookie, collecting two tackles. Carlos Davis was a seventh-round pick by the Steelers in 2020. The defensive tackle collected 11 tackles in 11 games.
The biggest storyline of the day for the Giants was the injury to Johnson, but they have been busy at other positions as well. Hand was a fifth-round pick of the Vikings in 2020, making 23 appearances during his time there. He primarily played on special teams, but registered an interception and three pass breakups as a rookie. Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News tweets that Minnesota was interested in re-signing him had he cleared waivers.
The release of Akins is somewhat surprising, given the Giants’ question marks at the tight end position. The former Texans third-rounder signed just before the draft, where New York added Daniel Bellingerin the fourth round. The latter had a brief stint on the PUP list at the start of training camp, but, if healthy, could be the favorite to take on Evan Engram‘s vacated starting spot.
Tuesday marked the day teams were forced to cut down from 85 to 80 players. Here are the moves teams made made to reach the new maximum. Players who land on the reserve/PUP or reserve/NFI list must miss at least the first four regular-season games.