Mark Madden: Desperate trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick won’t save Steelers season |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: Desperate trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick won’t save Steelers season

Mark Madden
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick during practice Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Yinzer Nation loves the trade that brought safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami to the Steelers. That’s because Yinzer Nation can talk itself into anything.

So can the Steelers, apparently, because dealing for Fitzpatrick was designed to save this season. That’s an impossible task given the 0-2 start and Ben Roethlisberger’s injury.

But while Fitzpatrick is a former first-rounder and only 22, a first-round pick has never been traded with an eye to the future. The middle of the Steelers defense has been eaten alive through two weeks. Fitzpatrick was acquired to fix that now — now, as in Sunday at San Francisco, where he will replace the mercifully injured Sean Davis at free safety.

The Steelers never look past the current season. It’s all about winning now, even when that seems impossible — like now.

But the Steelers also never trade their first-round draft pick: 2020 will be the first year they haven’t chosen in the first round since 1967.

That makes it fair to call this acquisition desperate. USA Today called it “delusional.”

Every trade has potential downside. In this case, it’s easy to imagine the Steelers finishing in the NFL’s bottom 10 in Roethlisberger’s absence.

Is Fitzpatrick worth a top 10 pick? Top 5? What if Rudolph stinks, and the Steelers could have used that pick to take Roethlisberger’s ultimate replacement?

Those are some big ifs, true.

So are ifs like, “if Rudolph plays great in Roethlisberger’s place” and “if Fitzpatrick does well, it fixes the Steelers defense.”

Including Fitzpatrick, the Steelers have eight first-round picks starting on defense. You’d think the unit could have done better than it did with seven. Coordinator Keith Butler has a lot of resources, but hasn’t yet delivered.

Fitzpatrick will make the defense better, but not good enough to carry the Steelers sans Roethlisberger. Fitzpatrick is a second-year player, not Rod Woodson in his prime.

I don’t hate the trade. I don’t love it, either. I’m not convinced either way.

I hear and see illogical rationalizing.

Like, the Steelers’ first-round picks are busts, so trade the pick. But in the last 10 years, the Steelers’ first-round choices included T.J. Watt, Ryan Shazier, David DeCastro, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey. First-round picks have historically been the franchise’s foundation for success. Every team whiffs on some, but talent adds up.

The people who do the drafting are the same people who swapped for Fitzpatrick. Do you trust them to do the latter, but not the former?

I’m told Fitzpatrick is a proven commodity. He’s played 18 NFL games. How “proven” does that makes him? Fitzpatrick didn’t make the Pro Bowl, or get serious consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is a first-round talent. He improved during his time at Miami. He played college at Alabama, a football factory.

But he’s not very “proven.”

Best-case scenario: The defense improves greatly after adding Fitzpatrick. Rudolph matches his level of play against Seattle on a consistent basis. The Steelers finish 7-9 or 8-8, missing the playoffs. That’s the most that can realistically be hoped for. Momentum is built, and we have a quarterback controversy. #BestForBusiness

Worst-case scenario: The defense still stinks because it’s difficult for one player to make a big difference. Rudolph struggles mightily. The Steelers go 6-10 (or worse) and miss out on a top 10 pick.

For this trade to make sense, Fitzpatrick and Rudolph both have to do what’s hoped for — and even that won’t get the Steelers to the postseason.

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