The Pittsburgh Steelers chose to accept a one-year gamble on Bud Dupree that he is worth about $10 million, something that I think even he will admit that he hasn’t done up to this point in his career, four years after being drafted in the first round.
Set to play under his fifth-year option, the front office would ordinarily be in extension talks with his agent right about now, but they know that they can’t commit anything to him long-term unless they actually see some real legitimate progression, and that means allowing him to play under the option price for 2019.
Dupree has averaged five sacks per season, though he has topped that slightly in each of the past two years. After posting a career-high six in 2017, he recorded five and a half in 2018. He has 20 in his four-year career—the same amount as T.J. Watt in his first two seasons.
That is where the Steelers expect him to be by now. That’s where he expects himself to be by now. And he knows it. “Everybody is waiting on that year to come”, he told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN earlier this month as minicamp was coming to an end. “I know and I feel this year will be the year to show the person I am and just put everything together”.
Arguably the biggest thing that he has to ‘put together’ still is in simply finishing plays. He himself highlighted the number of plays in which he could have had a sack but something just didn’t go quite right. He knows he has to make those things right.
But he also knows that he needs to stay fully healthy for a change. He has dealt with injuries that have affected his on-field performance in each of the last three years. As far as we know, he is as fully healthy as can be right now, so he can’t afford to see that change.
It’s not just a matter of being healthier, though. Yes, playing without injury will also help him play better, but he also needs to improve in specific areas. He is limited when it comes to producing counters and his bend up the arc is disappointing when considering his athleticism.
Are the Steelers really ever going to see that year from Dupree? I don’t think many are actually counting on it, and if they do get it, what are the odds that they would actually be able to retain him rather than watch him walk in free agency? If he suddenly becomes the player that they thought he could be when they drafted him, he’s going to price himself out of town. And if he doesn’t, he might not be worth keeping.