The year was 2019, and the Steelers were off to a dreadful start. It began with an embarrassing 33-3 loss to the hated New England Patriots. Next came a loss to the Seahawks along with the season ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh was 0-2, and had lost their franchise quarterback. The season looked over before it even got going. All the while rumors of Minkah Fitzpatrick demanding a trade from the Miami Dolphins were swirling. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/miami-dolphins/fl-sp-dolphins-minkah-fitzpatrick-trade-request-20190913-qibwyzqvhrd5hpxgf45tkqcrea-story.html What happened next changed the course of history for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What could have been:
Before the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade the Steelers defense was horrendous. They had given up 33, and 28 points respectively, and looked completely lost in the process. Combine that with the way we now know the offense performed without Ben Roethlisberger, and we can guess where the Steelers would have ended up.
It is not a stretch to think this team would have finished with a terrible record without the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick. As it was, Pittsburgh barely scraped together a respectable 8-8 season with Minkah and the immensely improved defense. The Steelers finished 2019 just three games better than the Los Angles Chargers in the final standings. Neither team ended up making the playoffs last season. The Chargers did however end up with perhaps the best quarterback in the 2020 draft with Justin Herbert. The Steelers got nothing from the first round of that draft having traded their pick to Miami.
Can we absolutely guarantee the Steelers would have finished ahead of the Chargers in the eventual draft order without Minkah Fitzpatrick? No, of course not. What we can guarantee is that they would’ve been at least in striking distance where a trade up would be possible, at the very least.
What Actually Happened:
We all know what eventually happened to lead us to the point the Steelers are at now. But do we really understand how we got here, and what it means going forward? When Kevin Colbert made this move, he gambled one of two things would happen. First off, there is real evidence that Colbert and Tomlin actually believed that Mason Rudolph could be “the” guy. In this scenario, they were under the impression that they could still make the playoffs with Rudolph and a greatly improved defense. Clearly they couldn’t have been more wrong with this one.
The other possibility is the team believed Ben Roethlisberger would make it all the way back in 2020. We have to believe the team was banking on this more than the Rudolph scenario. Either way the Steelers took a huge risk, and one we were never in favor of. Five reasons why the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade is a disaster
The question then becomes how could you gamble away the team’s best chance at a rebuild on the surgically repaired elbow of a 38 year old quarterback? Kevin Colbert is among the best general managers in the NFL, but his undying devotion to Ben Roethlisberger may have clouded his judgment here. This team had just lost Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell during the off-season, and now the franchise quarterback was out for the season. The situation cried for a rebuild, but Colbert chose to ignore it.
It did appear for a while this season that Colbert’s big gamble had paid off. The team was 11-0, and seemed destined for a clash with the Chiefs for a trip to the Super Bowl. Three losses later, and now Pittsburgh is clinging to its lead in the AFC North. What started out so promising, is now looking like a disaster in the making.
What the Future Holds:
Ben Roethlisberger has regressed to the point where he has become a less mobile version of Alex Smith. A dink and dunk quarterback who refuses to stay in the pocket long enough to complete any deep throws. The offense has completely collapsed now that opposing defenses have taken the short passing game away. There is now a very real possibility this team will be one and done in the playoffs this season.
Next season will be even worse. The Steelers have the among the worst salary cap situations in the entire league. Ben will be back, to the tune of over $40 million against the cap. Meanwhile several key players will have to be sacrificed in order to get under the salary threshold. Steelers 2021 salary cap is a disaster
With so many holes to fill, and no cap space in which to fill them, this roster will be significantly downgraded next season. No matter what salary cap magic Kevin Colbert can conjure, it is hard to imagine this team ever being as good as it was when this season began.
The Gamble Lost:
The Minkah Fitzpatrick trade was never going to be a success unless this team won one more Super Bowl with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. That was the gamble Kevin Colbert made last September. Instead giving themselves the opportunity to draft Justin Herbert, they took a chance on the health of a 38 year old Ben Roethlisberger. There’s still time, but this bet isn’t looking very good for Colbert or the Steelers.
The next time someone tells you the Steelers trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick was a no-brainer, ask yourself this question. Would I rather have Minkah, or a chance at drafting Justin Herbert? The answer isn’t as easy as everyone makes it out to be…….is it?