PITTSBURGH — Diontae Johnson is at Steelers mandatory minicamp and plans to be a full participant all week, he said Tuesday morning, despite ongoing contract negotiations with the team, but the jury is still out on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick was in attendance Tuesday — head coach Mike Tomlin said the whole team was at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex — but was less than a full participant. Fitzpatrick has not spoken with the media this spring and declined to comment on Tuesday. Tomlin was mum when asked if he had a plan for Fitzpatrick’s participation going forward.
“I don’t,” he said. “We’ll play it by ear.”
Fitzpatrick’s negotiation with the Steelers figured to be the less contentious of the two for several reasons. A former first-round draft pick, he’s playing the 2022 season under the option season of his rookie contract, which is scheduled to pay him $10.6 million in guaranteed salary this season.
A contract extension could help he Steelers reduce Fitzpatrick’s cap hit in 2022, which gives him a bit of leverage to use against the team.
There’s also the matter of the market for safeties. The biggest safety contract handed out this offseason was given to Marcus Williams by the Baltimore Ravens for five years, $70 million and $32 million guaranteed. That works out to a $14 million average annual value and a $4.028 million 20223 cap hit.
The Steelers should feel more than comfortable paying Fitzpatrick, who has been a first-team All-Pro two of his three seasons in Pittsburgh, more than Williams and re-setting the safety market. It’s pretty rare that making a player the highest paid at his position in the league isn’t enough to get a deal done.
Compared to the wide receiver market, where spending went off the rails this year around the league and the market rate for Johnson might be a tough pill for the Steelers to swallow, paying Fitzpatrick is a no-brainer.
Which begs the question of why Fitzpatrick might not want to practice this spring. The Steelers permitted T.J. Watt to take a similar tact during contract negotiations a year ago, when he participated in individual workouts but not team drills through minicamp and even to the very end of training camp before signing his extension with the team.
It seems that option will continue to be available to players going forward, even if not all of them want to take advantage of it. Johnson said he isn’t concerned about injury and just wants to focus on football without his contract being a distraction, hence his choice to report and play.
Players do not have mandatory media obligations during the offseason, so unless Fitzpatrick decides to elaborate on his stance, it could be a mystery until a deal gets done.