How Minkah Fitzpatrick’s record-breaking contract with Pittsburgh Steelers resets the safety market

Now that Minkah Fitzpatrick's landmark contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers is done, what's next for the NFL's safety market?

The Pittsburgh Steelers and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have executed a major piece of business. The Steelers have reached an agreement to sign Fitzpatrick, a former Miami Dolphins first-round draft pick, to a four-year, $73.6 million contract, according to league sources. The deal was negotiated by the Steelers’ front office and WME Sports, Fitzpatrick’s agency.

Fitzpatrick is due $18.4 million annually and $36 million guaranteed at signing. He is now the highest-paid safety in the NFL in terms of average annual salary.

“We are very excited to sign Minkah to a new five-year contract,” Steelers general manager Omar Khan said. “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.”

What this landmark deal means for the safety market

This landmark deal is significant for the rapidly exploding safety market.

Since the Seattle Seahawks signed safety Jamal Adams to a four-year, $70 million deal that included $38 million in guarantees and a $20 million signing bonus, the price for elite safeties continues to rise.

That deal was higher than Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons’ $15.25 million annual average. And now Fitzpatrick’s deal has upped the ante again.

The next safety in line for a new deal is Los Angeles Chargers standout Derwin James. The Chargers have held preliminary discussions with James and a huge deal is expected to eventually get worked out, according to league sources. When a deal might get worked out is undetermined, but the Fitzpatrick deal is instructive for the future.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t expected to get a deal done at this time with safety Jessie Bates III, their unsigned franchise player who has been absent from offseason workouts and minicamp.

When or if something develops for Bates in the future, the money Fitzpatrick received should provide a benchmark for future safety deals like his down the road.

New contract “a blessing” for Fitzpatrick

A former 11th overall pick from Alabama, Fitzpatrick originally signed a four-year, $16.447 million rookie contract that included a $10.042 million signing bonus.

“I am very excited,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “I am still kind of in shock right now. It’s a blessing. I am really excited. It’s just the beginning. I am appreciative. I am thankful. Now I just want to keep on chopping. I love the history here, what it stands for, the standard we are held to.

“The standard coach (Mike) Tomlin holds us to, on the field and off the field. The standard of winning playoff games, division titles, and championship games. I really like it here. I have been playing well the last three seasons, at a high level. I love the atmosphere, the coaching, the tradition. Being able to continue that for the next few years is definitely a blessing.”

Acquired from the Dolphins along with a fourth-round draft pick and a seventh-round selection, Fitzpatrick went to Pittsburgh in exchange for a first-round draft pick and a sixth-round selection. The Steelers had previously picked up Fitzpatrick’s fifth-year club option of $10.612 million.

Now, Fitzpatrick is going to be in a Steelers uniform for the long-term future.

Last season, he recorded 124 tackles, one forced fumble, two interceptions, and seven pass deflections. Rangy and instinctive, Fitzpatrick has established himself as one of the top safeties in the game. And his bump in pay establishes how the Steelers see him as a high-caliber foundational piece for a defense that is also headlined by pass rusher T.J. Watt.

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