Two straight All-Pro selections and Pro Bowl appearances are, in fact, worth a lot of money.
Minkah Fitzpatrick proved this to be true Wednesday when he and the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed on a four-year contract extension worth more than $73.6 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
The deal includes $36 million in guaranteed money and will make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL at $18.4 million per season, per Rapoport, eclipsing the previous mark set by Seattle's Jamal Adams ($17.5 million per season). The guaranteed total also surpasses the $32.1 million guaranteed to Denver's Justin Simmons.
Fitzpatrick's new contract is worth more per season than the total value of his rookie deal signed with Miami in 2019. It also validates what the football world already knew to be true: The Steelers made a wise move when sending a first-round pick (and two day three picks) to the Dolphins for Fitzpatrick.
"We are very excited to sign Minkah to a new five-year contract," general manager Omar Khan said, per the team's extension announcement. "Minkah is one of the top safeties in the NFL and we are thrilled he will be in Pittsburgh through at least the next five years. When we traded for him, we knew he was going to be an integral part of our defense and we look forward to that continuing as we prepare for the upcoming season."
The safety has proven to be a key part of Pittsburgh's defense since his arrival in 2019, earning consecutive first-team All-Pro honors and trips to the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020. Despite recording a career-high 125 tackles, Fitzpatrick fell short of those accomplishments in 2021, posting his worst defensive and coverage grades (per Pro Football Focus). But as Wednesday's deal indicates, Fitzpatrick remains an essential piece in Pittsburgh and is being paid accordingly.
The 25-year-old Fitzpatrick has recorded 13 interceptions (returning three for touchdowns), 36 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in his career. He's one of only three players to have 250-plus tackles and 10-plus interceptions since 2019, joining Cincinnati's Jessie Bates and Tennessee's Kevin Byard in this exclusive trio. He's also one of just six players in the NFL to record two-plus interceptions and 60-plus tackles in each of the last four seasons, and his 225 interception return yards are the second most in the NFL since 2019.
Fitzpatrick is being paid at a premier rate because he's an elite defender. He's one of only two safeties to earn multiple first-team All-Pro selections in the last three seasons and stands as the highest-graded safety in run defense since 2019 (per PFF).
Fitzpatrick's deal will also influence a couple of future contracts for pending 2023 free agents: the Chargers' Derwin James and Bengals' Bates. James is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, while Bates is currently under the franchise tag, which he has not yet signed.