MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was sitting behind a table on a stage deep in the heart of the Super Bowl’s NFL Fan Experience a week ago, back in town five months after the Miami Dolphins traded him.
Fitzpatrick paused in the middle of signing memorabilia and broke out in a huge grin as he stood to hug cornerback Walt Aikens, his former Dolphins teammate.
It was the first time the two had seen each other since Fitzpatrick was traded to the Steelers in a late-night deal early in the season.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody,” Fitzpatrick said. “I got traded on Monday night, and then Tuesday, nobody was in the facility when I left ...”
Fitzpatrick wanted out of Miami because he felt his role to cover all over the field impeded his ability to develop as an NFL player. In Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick played free safety -- a position he enjoys and thrives in.
"I am comfortable on the field. [They] just allowed me to play fast and do what I do," Fitzpatrick said in October of his role in Pittsburgh. "That is the thing I like about here -- we run what we run, and we run it well. We don't try to do too much, don't try to change it up week to week."
Since the season ended in Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick has spent most of his offseason in his townhouse in South Florida.
There has been some strangeness, sure, being back in the Miami area, but Fitzpatrick insisted there weren’t any hard feelings between him and his old team. Fitzpatrick forced his way out in the trade when he was unhappy with the amount the Dolphins moved him around. In return, the Dolphins got a package that included a first-round draft pick, good for No. 18 overall this year.
“... There’s no bad blood there," Fitzpatrick said. "And everybody else, business is business. It’s part of the game. It’s part of the job. They traded three other players, too.”
Though he got his wish with a more simplified role on the field when he left Miami, Fitzpatrick said he now wants to utilize his versatility.
After getting five picks and 34 tackles in the first seven games with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick’s numbers dropped off in the second half of the season. He had 23 tackles in the last seven games and no interceptions. Part of that, he said, was quarterbacks throwing away from him. He doesn’t want to give them that option next season.
“I don’t want to see that drop-off,” he said. “You know what I’m saying? I wanted to continue to have that impact on my team and have that impact on games. Because it’s no fun when you’re in a critical moment and you can’t do nothing about it.
“When you move around and you’re a moving piece on the chessboard, it’s hard to defend and you can’t just say, 'All right, the quarterback is going to look at me and say he’s going to be in this spot every snap,' like I was last year. It’s going to be harder and it’s going to be more difficult to take me out of the game.”