It if weren’t for the two giant elephants in the room for the Pittsburgh Steelers, those being Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, commanding all the attention in spite of the fact that they are not even communicating with the team on any meaningful level, there are a couple of other players that we would be talking about this spring.
One is Artie Burns, who following his third season will now be up for his fifth-year option to be picked up or declined. But the deadline for that isn’t for another couple of months, and so is not the immediate concern. The immediate concern is the first-round pick before Burns: Bud Dupree.
The 2015 outside linebacker has posted 20 sacks in his first four NFL seasons, never more than six. That is the same number that T.J. Watt now has after two years. The Steelers chose to pick up his option last summer in the hopes that he was continuing to progress after posting a career-high in sacks in 2017.
He didn’t make many strides this past year, however, and now the team has to consider whether or not they are comfortable with being on the hook for paying him north of $9 million in 2019 while lowering their expectations for what he can produce. Art Rooney II has already suggested that they still believe he can grow, if you need a sign.
While nobody has any real answers right now as to the team’s line of thinking—a decision has to be made whether or not to release him at the start of the new league year in the middle of March before it becomes fully guaranteed—plenty have been willing to offer their opinions, often when prompted.
Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was asked about Dupree’s situation in a chat yesterday, and he suggested that he doesn’t sense the urgency, nor the need for urgency. “I think they can get by another year with Dupree”, he wrote.
“I don’t think he’ll ever develop into a double-digit sack type of OLB”, he added. “They probably could use an upgrade, but it’s down their list of needs. They have more immediate needs at ILB and CB so I think those should be addressed first”.
Now the question becomes whether or not that one more year has to come with the fifth-year option price tag. Can the Steelers release him and still manage to re-sign him on a lower deal? He wouldn’t be the first player to balk at re-signing with a team after making such a move, seeing an opportunity for a future in another city.
And not having Dupree, even if he is far from a Pro Bowler, would leave them in a bind, or at least with unproven alternatives. Anthony Chickillo is a decided downgrade, and Ola Adeniyi and Keion Adams are unknown commodities. Unless they plan to tackle the position in free agency or a trade, it may be hard to cut Dupree.