One can never have too many good defensive backs. That has been true for the Green Bay Packers for years, as the team has seen injuries ravage its secondary many times in recent decades. The team has repeatedly sought help in the secondary with high picks in the NFL Draft, using five first- or second-round picks on defensive backs in just the past three years.
Now, a player whom the team was reportedly highly interested in just a year and a half ago is apparently available for trade.
That player is Minkah Fitzpatrick, a versatile DB who is early in his second NFL season. Several mock drafts in 2018, including former beat writer Bob McGinn’s, projected Fitzpatrick to land with the Packers, who held the 14th overall pick. However, the Miami Dolphins selected him three picks earlier at 11, and the Packers moved back and then forward again to land cornerback Jaire Alexander at pick number 18.
Amid the Dolphins’ apparent fire sale and rebuilding project, several players have reportedly expressed their displeasure and are asking out of town. Fitzpatrick is one of them, and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported late Thursday night that the team has given him and his agent permission to try to negotiate a trade.
Fitzpatrick’s skill set would be perfect for how the Packers seem inclined to deploy their defensive backs this season. First, Mike Pettine loves to use his nickel and dime packages, and Fitzpatrick’s size (6-foot, 204 pounds) and physicality would make him a great candidate in the slot or as a third safety.
Furthermore, the Packers’ cornerbacks and safeties are in the same room, combined under DBs coach Jason Simmons after years of having separate position coaches. As a player who can line up in any spot in the secondary, Fitzpatrick would be able to play literally any role that Simmons could draw up for him, though his primary responsibilities would likely come in the slot. Furthermore, Fitzpatrick has experience as a dime linebacker from his time in college at Alabama and he could play a little bit of that role, which is currently occupied by Raven Greene.
In 2018, Fitzpatrick had an excellent rookie season, playing in every game with 11 starts. He hauled in a pair of interceptions (including one he returned for a touchdown) and broke up nine passes while recording 80 total tackles. According to Pro Football Reference, he allowed a passer rating of just 64.6 when he was the nearest defender in coverage, giving up no touchdowns and allowing just 56.5 percent of targets to be completed.
As Mortensen notes, however, the sticking point for a potential trade would be compensation, as the Dolphins appear to have a very high asking price. As a first-round pick in just his second year, Fitzpatrick would be under team control for the remainder of 2019 and up to three more seasons, should he receive the fifth-year option. That level of team control, plus the high draft capital used to acquire him and the high level of play he displayed as a rookie, would likely come with a high price.
With that said, perhaps Miami would accept a day-two draft pick in 2020 to part with a disgruntled young player. The likelihood of acquiring a player of Fitzpatrick’s caliber with even a second-round pick next spring is low, and the Packers could still have Fitzpatrick under contract through 2022, compared to a rookie contract for a second-rounder running one year longer, through 2023.
General manager Brian Gutekunst would be wise to make some phone calls and gauge the Dolphins’ interest in working out a trade. Even a second- or third-round pick in 2020 should be justifiable for a player like Fitzpatrick.