Not only is Fitzpatrick, 25, the highest paid at his position but the Steelers’ defense is among the league’s most expensive in both cash and cap value.
But that money doesn’t motivate the defense to perform, Fitzpatrick said Thursday. Instead, it affirms the players’ duty to perform to a standard expected with a paycheck that large.
“The money is a blessing, the money creates opportunity for everyone around us and in our families, but it’s more what they’re saying with the money,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re trusting you to be the best and prepare to be the best and compete against the best and play A++ on a consistent basis.
“It’s more of that, that I’m trying hold myself to, rather than say, ‘I got paid, so now I’ve got to play well.’ It’s no, these guys trust me with this amount of money, this amount of responsibility, so now it’s my duty to go out there and play at a high level and show them that I deserve this compensation.”
Fitzpatrick’s deal was the first for new general manager Omar Khan, and it got done in the span of just a few weeks.
“That’s just what Omar and Mr. Rooney wanted to do,” Fitzpatrick said of the timing of the contract. “They reached out a few weeks ago and said they were ready to start the negotiation process. I don’t remember if we sent an offer, they sent an offer first, but we went back and forth for a little while. This is when they wanted to get it done.”
The process was much faster than it was for T.J. Watt, who became the highest-paid pass rusher days before the start of the regular season after contract negotiations stretched through training camp.
Although the timelines were different, the results are still largely the same.
With Watt’s and Fitzpatrick’s contracts, the Steelers are one of five teams with multiple defensive players who are making at least $18 million per year in their current contract, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
In addition to hiring former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores as a senior defensive assistant, the Steelers’ commitment to paying top-dollar defensive players signals the team’s direction and future identity in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. Currently, the cap value of the Steelers’ defensive contracts is nearly double the cap value of the offensive players, per ESPN’s Roster Management System.
The moves echo ones made by the Steelers in 2019 when Roethlisberger went down in Week 2 with a season-ending elbow injury. Hours after the team announced it would be without Roethlisberger, it acquired Fitzpatrick from Miami for a first-round pick. To Fitzpatrick, the move signaled a desire to win, and it affirmed the organization matched the safety’s ideals.
Now, three years later, the Steelers are faced with a Roethlisberger-less future, and they’re again turning to Fitzpatrick and the defense to lead the transition.
“The thing I appreciate most about this organization is commitment to winning,” Fitzpatrick said. “Everything we do, even me coming here, is a commitment to winning.
“It could’ve been a season where we lost our starting quarterback, legendary Hall of Fame quarterback, it could’ve been a season where they just tanked and decided to call it quits. But they went out and acquired me and acquired a few other guys and said we’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win games.
“If you got to win on defense, you got to win on defense. It obviously wasn’t a perfect season, but it was a season that was dedicated toward winning even though it wasn’t prime conditions for winning. We went out there, and I feel like that set the tone for these last few seasons. It showed me this program is a winning program and they’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”