Minkah Fitzpatrick is a very good football player and one of the best safeties in the NFL. Joining the league as a first-round draft pick in 2018, he has appeared in 66 games and registered a combined 18 takeaways as well as two first-team All-Pro nominations.
He is a cornerstone of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, and the team making him the highest paid safety in league history did not come as too big a surprise: according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the two sides reached an agreement on a four-year, $73.6 million contract extension on Wednesday.
This story is not about that deal per se; locking a player of Fitzpatrick’s caliber up long-term certainly makes sense for the Steelers. Since we are covering the New England Patriots here, however, we can look at the contract from a different point of view.
After all, it puts the Patriots’ own spending at the safety position in some perspective.
Not counting special teamer Cody Davis, New England currently has six safeties under contract: Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe and Brenden Schooler.
McCourty was re-signed via a one-year deal ahead of free agency earlier this year. Phillips was kept from the open market as well, signing a three-year deal with the organization back in January. Dugger and Bledsoe are on their rookie contracts after arriving in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Peppers joined on a one-year unrestricted free agency contract, with Schooler an undrafted rookie.
As can be seen, the group is a mix of established veterans (McCourty, Phillips, Peppers) and youngsters (Dugger, Bledsoe, Schooler). It also is one that can collectively be classified as a bargain, especially compared to the deal Fitzpatrick just signed in Pittsburgh.
Whereas Fitzpatrick’s contract averages $18.4 million per year, New England’s entire safety depth chart combines for just $19.1 million. The top-four at the position — McCourty, Phillips, Dugger and Peppers — have a combined APY of $17.3 million.
Whether or not one Fitzpatrick is worth more than those four players put together is a difficult question to answer, but the comparison illustrates two things:
1.) The Patriots are operating at an extreme cost-effectiveness at the safety position, especially due to Dugger’s rookie contract and Phillips’ team-friendly extension.
2.) The Patriots’ general approach to team building values depth more than anything; their most expensive contract this year — that of McCourty — takes up a share of just 2.7 percent of New England’s salary cap.
Obviously, the team will not be able to continue operating exactly the way it does at the moment. McCourty will eventually retire and if doing so next year would leave a $9.7 million dead cap charge, while Dugger will be looking for a new contract no later than 2024.
As far as their 2022 payroll is concerned, however, they are quite possibly at the top of the league in terms of value. The Minkah Fitzpatrick contract is just further proof of that.