Minkah Fitzpatrick

Latest On Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick

As the Steelers dealt with injuries in the linebacking corps and the secondary last season, Minkah Fitzpatrick was forced to handle a number of different responsibilities. The All-Pro safety is in line to handle a more familiar workload in 2024, however.

Fitzpatrick – known to be at his best when used as a free safety based on his ballhawking skills – saw a decrease in his usage rate with respect to centerfield-type deployment last season. Instead, his varied workload included an uptick in time spent in the box as well as at slot corner. That played a key role in the four-time Pro Bowler being held without an interception for the first time in his career last year.

“The biggest thing is as coaches, our job is to try to get all of our guys in the best position as possible so they can play as well as they can and play up to their abilities,” Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said about Fitzpatrick’s usage (via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor). “And so last year I probably failed in that regard. We tried to have him do too much stuff, and I think I’m going to get back to really what makes him special.”

Pittsburgh has Damontae Kazee set to return to from the suspension which ended his regular season, and the team added a veteran safety in the form of DeShon Elliott in free agency. The Steelers’ linebacking corps (which includes holdovers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts) was also strengthened this offseason with the signing of Patrick Queen and the selection of Payton Wilson in the draft. Better health and increased depth at both positions in 2024 should allow Fitzpatrick to return to an all-but exclusive role as a free safety.

The 27-year-old has proven to be a productive acquisition for the Steelers, amassing 17 interceptions and 41 pass deflections since being traded by the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick is under contract through 2026 on his $18.25MM-per-year deal, and expectations will be high for him in 2024 especially if he manages to return to his preferred alignment.

Pittsburgh ranked 11th in the league in interceptions last year despite Fitzpatrick being kept off the board in that regard, but the team finished just 17th in passing yards allowed. Improvement in both areas could take place with him returning to his most effective spot.

Steelers To Start Mason Rudolph In Week 16

DECEMBER 21: For a third straight game, the Steelers will be without Pickett. Tomlin confirmed the second-year starter will miss Week 16, bringing Rudolph back to the forefront. After an eight-start 2019 season, the longtime Ben Roethlisberger backup has made two starts since.

DECEMBER 18: As foreshadowed over the weekend, the Steelers will be making a switch under center. Head coach Mike Tomlin announced on Monday that Mason Rudolph will get the start in Week 16 against the Bengals.

In his post-game remarks after a loss to the Colts on Saturday, Tomlin declined to confirm if Mitch Trubisky would retain the starting role. Tomlin hinted that changes on offense would be coming after Pittsburgh lost a third straight game to drop to 7-7. Now, that has been confirmed.

Rudolph will receive first-team reps in practice this week, although Tomlin did say (via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor) that starter Kenny Pickett has a chance to return to the field in time for the Cincinnati game. With Rudolph already having been named the starter, though, Pickett’s return would only be in a backup capacity as he recovers from ankle surgery.

Trubisky took over for Pickett during the Steelers’ upset loss to the Cardinals. He then started against the Patriots and Colts, games in which the team’s offensive struggles continued. In need of a late-season spark to stay alive in the wild-card race, Pittsburgh will now turn to Rudolph, who made his 2023 debut in the closing moments of Saturday’s game. The 28-year-old did not see the field last year, and the most recent of his 10 career starts came in 2021.

Rudolph was expected to find himself on a new team this offseason by means of a free agent departure. Signing with a new team could have created a clearer path to playing time, but in May he ultimately decided to re-up with the Steelers once again. That one-year pact worth the veteran minimum will now give the former third-rounder another opportunity to earn a role in Pittsburgh or a new team in the offseason.

Unlike Rudolph, Trubisky is on the books through 2025. The former No. 2 pick joined the Steelers on a two-year deal last spring, and he inked an extension this past offseason to continue serving as Pickett’s backup. Trubisky has not fared well during his time on the field this season, however, and today’s move marks a blow to the confidence the team has in him given the importance of their three-game stretch to close out the season.

Tomlin also announced safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will miss the Steelers’ contest against the Bengals. The All-Pro is dealing with a knee injury which forced him to leave the Colts loss. While Fitzpatrick’s’ absence will be felt on defense, plenty of attention will be on Rudolph and the offense as the Steelers look to end their losing streak and keep their playoff chances alive.

AFC Injury Roundup: Colts, Ivey, Steelers, Wilson

The Colts battled through a number of injuries to beat the Steelers and remain in the playoff hunt for the AFC yesterday. Two key players in wide receiver Michael Pittman and running back Zack Moss were forced to exit the game early with injuries and failed to return.

Pittman was knocked out of the game with a concussion after receiving a hit from Steelers safety Damontae Kazee that resulted in Kazee’s ejection. Without his favorite target by far, quarterback Gardner Minshew was required to spread the ball out, completing passes to eight other players for the rest of the game. Though they were able to find success, Indianapolis will hope that Pittman can work his way through the concussion protocols quickly as Pittman is the target on nearly a third of the team’s pass attempts.

There was serious concern when Moss exited the game with an injury to the same arm that was broken around the start of the season. He was forced to leave the game due to issues with grip. With Jonathan Taylor missing most of the season thus far, Moss has taken the crown as the team’s leading rusher. Luckily, X-rays came back negative on Moss’ arm, so he should be able to return next week.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the AFC this week:

  • Joining fellow Bengals defender D.J. Reader, who was announced to be out for the season last night, seventh-round rookie cornerback DJ Ivey left yesterday’s game with a torn ACL that will end his season, as well, per Kelsey Conway of USA Today. The late-round pick out of Miami (FL) will see his rookie season cut short just as he was beginning to earn some more playing time in Cincinnati. He received a game ball last week for making a key pass breakup and recovering a fumble on punt coverage.
  • After Kazee was ejected, the Steelers were left with two backups in the game when Minkah Fitzpatrick left the game with a knee injury, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Fitzpatrick was able to walk off the field under his own power, but after a brief evaluation on the sideline, it was determined that he should not return for the second half of the game. Another starter, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, will be a question mark to make a Week 16 appearance as he is reportedly in concussion protocol, per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.
  • Lastly, from today’s games, the Jets were once again forced to turn to a new passer, this time Trevor Siemian, after starting quarterback Zach Wilson was forced to leave the game with a concussion in the second quarter, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN. If Wilson is unable to come back next week, it’ll likely be Siemian starting for New York against the Commanders.

AFC Injury Roundup: Steelers, Stevenson, Titans

This has been a typical rally year for the Steelers. Anytime things look less than ideal in a season for Pittsburgh, the team tends to pick things up and lead head coach Mike Tomlin to yet another winning season. They have done so this year as a bend-but-don’t-break defense has buoyed a struggling offense to a 7-5 record. That task will likely be getting a bit more difficult with the injury news concerning starting quarterback Kenny Pickett.

According to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, Pickett sustained a right ankle injury while trying to push for the endzone today and was forced to sit out the remainder of the game. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the injury is “not good” and that Pickett “will be out for an extended period.”

Pickett was replaced in today’s loss by backup quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky was able to score a touchdown in relief of Pickett but was unable to lead the team to victory after inheriting a tie game on the one-yard line. Tomlin made it clear that if Pickett is unable to go, which if Dulac is correct sounds like it will be the case, Trubisky will serve as the team’s starter.

With the Steelers facing a short week before hosting the Patriots, Pickett likely won’t have time to make a quick comeback, especially if the injury is “not good.” Expect Trubisky to lead the Pittsburgh offense this Thursday night.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the AFC, starting with another note from the Steel City:

  • Steelers starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who returned to the field today for the first time since October, was forced to leave the game for a period with a broken left hand, per Pryor. The break reportedly kept him from being able to grab the football, but he was able to cast and wrap the hand during the game’s two weather delays and finish the game with the injury. If the team feels it’s safe, Fitzpatrick may not need to miss any additional time as he can simply play with the cast, as he did today.
  • Speaking of the Thursday night turnaround, the Patriots are in danger of having to face the Steelers without starting running back Rhamondre Stevenson. Stevenson reportedly sprained his ankle today, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and will undergo an MRI in order to determine how long he may be sidelined. Even if it’s a fairly minor sprain, the short week looms large for his availability. Backup rusher Ezekiel Elliott could find himself in a bigger role or even starting in Pittsburgh this coming week.
  • The Titans saw two players suffer scary knee injuries in today’s loss to the Colts. The two players who went down were star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and backup tight end Josh Whyle. While the injuries were enough to sideline each player for a bit, beat writer Paul Kuharsky confirms that neither injury is season-ending.

Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick Expected To Play

While the Steelers will continue to deal with a number of defenders being on injured reserve, they are set to return a leader on that side of the ball in safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. According to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, Fitzpatrick is set to appear in his first game in four weeks this Sunday against the Cardinals.

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.

AFC North Rumors: Bengals, Battle, Watson, Steelers

The Bengals have already announced that starting quarterback Joe Burrow‘s season is over after he suffered a thumb ligament tear. The only information left to report on Burrow’s situation is that he is set to undergo wrist surgery tomorrow, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The expectation is that Burrow will be able to make a full recovery in time for the 2024 season.

On the administrative side of things, Rapoport also reports that the league is “investigating if Cincinnati should have listed Burrow on its injury report prior to” the game in which he seemingly suffered the season-ending injury. The night before the team’s matchup in Baltimore, Burrow was shown on a team social media post with an apparatus on his right wrist before the post was taken down. That same wrist is the one receiving surgery tomorrow. Rapoport says that the Bengals have “turned in hours of footage to the NFL showing that Burrow was healthy prior to the game.” The team’s doctors claim that the injury was acute and not one that happened over time.

The team opted to run Burrow’s offense and playbook in Jake Browning‘s first career start. The Bengals coaches had full confidence in Browning running the offense but still planned to run the ball a bit more than usual to take some pressure off his shoulders. Browning and the Bengals would lose to Pittsburgh, but Browning would complete 19 of 26 pass attempts for 227 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. The plan to run the ball a bit more fell through as limited possession time and offensive success led to only 11 carries.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC North, staying in Cincinnati for a beat:

  • Another position for the Bengals experienced a change in starter as defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo announced rookie third-round pick Jordan Battle as the team’s starting strong safety over Nick Scott earlier this week, per Kelsey Conway of USA Today. Scott still had a role in today’s game but played a clear second fiddle to Battle. Asked what about Battle made him the choice at starter, Anarumo claimed it was his tackling ability.
  • Another AFC North starting quarterback underwent surgery for their season-ending injury as the BrownsDeshaun Watson had a procedure done on his shoulder earlier this week, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network. Watson is expected to be healed in time to start the 2024 season.
  • A big story in the struggles of the Steelers’ offense this year has been the frustration of wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Those frustrations reportedly boiled over after last week’s loss to the Browns, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, leading to a heated argument with star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick that needed to be broken up by teammates Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt. Johnson only had two catches on the day and was visibly upset on the sideline as he engaged in an animated conversation with head coach Mike Tomlin. Johnson’s annoyance would continue as he was later seen “chirping” at the coaches all the way to the locker room after the game before being confronted by Fitzpatrick. Perhaps the firing of former offensive coordinator Matt Canada helped to cool Johnson down, as Johnson received eight targets today.

NFL Restructures: Smith, Mahomes, Fitzpatrick, Peat, Thomas, Hines, Waller

We had news recently that Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith had agreed to restructure his contract with the team, reducing his massive $17.6MM cap hit. Thanks to Todd Archer of ESPN, we now have some details on the deal. Smith was headed into the last year of an eight-year agreement, so his restructure essentially functions as a one-year contract.

The newly restructured contract will be a one-year, $6MM deal with a potential maximum value of $17MM. He received a $3MM signing bonus for the changes and has his $3MM base salary guaranteed. The deal rapidly escalates from there with several playing time incentives. Smith will receive an additional $1MM bonus for each of these snap share thresholds: 50%, 55%, 60%, 65%, 70%, 75%, 80%, 85%, and 90%. This means that if he plays over 90% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps, he will receive $9MM, one for each of the nine levels.

He can also receive playoff incentives, 75% of which are paid off of wins alone. The remaining 25% is paid if he plays over half of the team’s offensive snaps in those wins. He would receive $500,000 for each playoff win in which he plays the majority of the snaps. With four possible playoff wins, that’s a total of $2MM in playoff bonuses. Those plus the $9MM from the playing time incentives and the $6MM guaranteed at signing push the contract to it’s maximum value of $17MM.

Here is some other news on restructures from around the league:

  • The Chiefs created some financial breathing room by restructuring star quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘s massive contract, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The team converted $12MM of his 2023 roster bonus into a signing bonus, creating $9.6MM in cap space for the season.
  • Yates also reports that the Steelers found some cap space by restructuring the contract of a star. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick agreed to a restructured deal that would reward the Steelers with $10.07MM of additional cap space in 2023 by converting $13.42MM of his 2023 salary into a signing bonus.
  • The Saints were able to gain some cap room by restructuring the deal of guard Andrus Peat, according to Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football. The team converted $4MM of his 2023 salary into a signing bonus, reducing his salary from $11.83MM to $7.83MM. He then took an additional pay cut to reduce his 2023 base salary to $1.5MM as the team voided out his 2024 salary, adding three more voidable years to the deal. The moves resulted in an additional $9.53MM in cap space for New Orleans.
  • Another NFC South player reportedly took a pay cut as Panthers tight end Ian Thomas agreed to a restructured deal, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. In his new deal, Thomas will earn $3MM in 2023 and $3.65MM in 2024. The deal creates an additional $2.88MM in cap space.
  • Another report from Yates tells us that the Bills have agreed to a renegotiated contract with running back Nyheim Hines. While the details are not yet available, it entails a $1MM signing bonus and the opportunity to earn $4.79MM in bonuses, clearing out some cap space for Buffalo while providing some incentives for Hines next season.
  • Lastly, following the tight end’s trade to the Giants, Darren Waller has agreed to a renegotiated deal with his new team, according to Yates. New York has converted $9.84MM of his 2023 base salary into a signing bonus. The move creates $7.87MM in additional cap space for the Giants.

Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick Out With Appendicitis; OLB T.J. Watt Activated

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.

2:09pm: The Steelers have been looking forward to the return of star pass rusher T.J. Watt from injured reserve this week but are now expected to be without safety Minkah Fitzpatrick who is reportedly dealing with appendicitis, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The team has also officially activated Watt from IR and placed cornerback William Jackson III on IR.

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.

Steelers Rule Out Minkah Fitzpatrick, Top 3 CBs For Week 6

Mike Tomlin‘s .500-or-better streak is facing perhaps its biggest threat yet. After the Steelers’ 38-3 loss to the Bills, they will be without nearly their entire starting secondary against the Buccaneers.

Pittsburgh ruled out Minkah Fitzpatrick with the knee injury he sustained in Buffalo and will also sit cornerbacks Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace against Tampa Bay. Hamstring injuries will sideline Sutton and Witherspoon, while Wallace suffered a concussion against his former team. Starting safety Terrell Edmunds missed Week 5 with a concussion but practiced fully all week.

Since the Steelers acquired Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins in September 2019, they have only been without him in one game — due to COVID-19 last season. Fitzpatrick played 96% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps last week. The team rewarded its two-time All-Pro this summer with a four-year, $72.99MM extension. The team re-signed Witherspoon and added Wallace — each on low-cost contracts.

Sutton and Wallace played against the Bills, while Witherspoon will miss a third straight game. The team started Arthur Maulet in place of Witherspoon in Buffalo; James Pierre is the team’s only other healthy corner on the 53-man roster. Former second-round picks Josh Jackson and Quincy Wilson reside on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, which houses four corners. Duke Dawson and second-year UDFA Mark Gilbert are on that 16-man P-squad. Still, this creates quite the advantageous spot for Tom Brady and his receiving corps.

The Steelers rank 30th in total defense and 26th in points allowed. They started 1-3 last season and began 1-4 during Ben Roethlisberger‘s 2019 injury season but rallied back to .500-or-better marks in each year. The only season in which the Steelers sat four games under .500 during Tomlin’s tenure came in 2013, when the team rallied back to 8-8.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/4/22

Today’s minor transactions:

Arizona Cardinals

Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Los Angeles Rams

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Washington Commanders