The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick had spent most of the offseason so far picking up plenty of figurative silver medals in the ultimately meaningless world of “Best Of” lists.
• In May it was Pro Football Network that rated Fitzpatrick as the NFL’s second-best safety behind Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James.
• Exactly one month later, Pro Football Focus’ roster again James had No. 1 and Fitzpatrick No. 2
• Two weeks ago, CBS has prepared its list. Guess what its top two were? Yep – James first, Fitzpatrick second.
Finally in a piece published Wednesday by ESPNFitzpatrick “won” a fictitious designation as the best safety in football.
In listing Fitzpatrick over runner-up James, ESPN relied on a survey of league executives, coaches, scouts and players — though its explanation indicates that ESPN leaves itself free to change the rankings if it sees fit.
Author Jeremy Fowler’s recipe for Fitzpatrick’s high ranking:
Fitzpatrick is back on top after perhaps his most dominant season as a pro, and once again rewarded Pittsburgh for star trade it was made with Miami four years ago.
His 28.2% snap rate led the NFL with 11 pass breakups and six interceptions on 39 targets as the closest defender. Fitzpatrick’s ball tracking skills are so good that he can intercept a pass and sell hot dogs at Gate B at Acrisure Stadium on the same play.
“Best in the game, and it’s not close,” said one NFL personnel director. “You’ve got to keep him going because if he’s stationary, coordinators can scheme for him, but every single play there’s a sense of where is he going to be? Post, slot, nickel, box. He’s skilled, willing and able to handle all that. He’s brilliant, works, studies, loves the game.”
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We did that 5 years ago…
Steelers fans well remember how their team’s 2018 season was largely derailed by Le’Veon Bell sitting out the entire campaign because he refused to sign the franchise tag.
There hasn’t been an NFL player to pull that move since. But a player in the same position as Bell with a local draw is apparently considering pulling something similar.
According to an ESPN reportformer Penn State running back Saquon Barkley may not only refuse to report to the New York Giants’ training camp, but “availability for Week 1 will be in serious doubt if he doesn’t reach a long-term deal with the New York Giants on Monday.”
Monday at 4 p.m. is the deadline for a player under the franchise tag to finalize a long-term deal. If none are signed by then, that player is obligated to play the upcoming season under the terms of the one-year franchise tag for his position, which in Barkley’s case is $10.1 million.
Or … not play the season at all, which is what Bell did in 2018.
NBC Sports cited a league source in the reporting The Giants had offered Barkley a multi-year deal worth $13 million annually, while Barkley is looking to match the compensation given to San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey ($16 million per year). However, the report said the Giants’ offer was taken off the table when the deadline to apply the franchise tag was implemented earlier this spring.
Bell, you may recall, played the 2017 season under a franchise tag of $12.12 million, reportedly signing the tender a week before the season began. The next year, his teammates expected a similar timeline — but Bell never showed up to the Steelers’ facility and refused to play under the $14.54 million franchise tag for the second year.
Bell would be released and signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the New York Jets, with whom he lasted less than two seasons.
Safe and sound
CBS Sports did its part annual “Hot Seat Rankings” for college football coaches. Of the three major programs of most local interest, two were rated as “Safe and Secure” – but one, conversely, fell into the “Win or Be Fired” category.
CBS’ Dennis Dodd evaluated the relative job security of all FBS coaches, placing them into six categories using a numerical rating from 0 (“Untouchable”) to 5 (“Win or Be Fired”). From the bottom up are “Safe and Secure” (1), “All Good … for Now” (2), “The Pressure Is Rising” (3) and “Start Improving Now” (4) leading to “Win or Get Fired ” .”
Only three coaches nationally fall into the latter ominous category – and one of them is West Virginia’s Neal Brown. Over four seasons at WVU, Brown is 22-25. He went 5-7 last year. Brown, who joins Indiana’s Tom Allen and New Mexico’s Danny Gonzales in “Win or Be Fired” territory, has one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2023 — including games at Penn State and home to Pitt.
Those schools’ coaches have a lot less to worry about, at least in terms of their performance-related job security this fall. The Nittany Lions’ James Franklin and the Panthers’ Pat Narduzzi are each among 42 coaches in the “Safe and Secure” level. Only 15 coaches were listed as “untouchables.”
Wednesday’s first call featured a look back at a dark July 11 for Pittsburgh sports fans — the day Jaromir Jagr was traded.
Thursday’s flashback is to a much happier occasion: 26 years ago Wednesday, the Pirates’ Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined for a 10-inning no-hitter at Three Rivers Stadium.
OTD 7/12/97: #Pittsburgh‘s Francisco Cordova (9ip) and Ricardo Rincon (1ip) combine for a no-hitter!
— 1986-92 Pittsburgh Pirates (@1992Pirates) 12 July 2023
Cordova walked twice and had 10 strikeouts over 121 pitches against the first-place Houston Astros, with whom “Freak Show” Pirates right on top of the NL Central with the win.
The Pirates managed just five singles and one walk through nine innings behind Chris Holt and Billy Wagner. But after Rincon, the future ran aground”Shutdown” Pirate Derek Bell first after a one-out walk in the top of the 10th. the Pirates drew a pair in the bottom of the inning off John Hudek to set the stage for Mark Smith to drive an 0-1 pitch into left field to send the crowd of 44,119 into a frenzy.
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