The Pittsburgh Steelers front office took a lot of criticism for their decision to pick up and retain the fifth-year option of former first-round outside linebacker Bud Dupree, paying him nearly $10 million for the 2019 season following a four-year career in which he averaged five sacks per season.
While he is not blazing up the stat sheet in the sack column this year, either, he is having his best season to date, and that goes for both the pass rush and his run defense, which has been underrated over the bulk of his career as it is.
“Bud Dupree is balling”, his running mate, T.J. Watt, said of Dupree after Monday’s win. “He doesn’t get enough credit for his all-around game. I think a lot of people just look at pass-rush stuff. The guy is defending the run at a high level. He’s also rushing the passer at a high level. He’s due for a big breakout game because we’re getting pressure”.
Dupree recorded five tackles, and among them his fourth sack of the season, against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night, the Steelers’ second victory in as many games, in which the defense’s ability to clamp down after the first quarter, and produce takeaways, was the catalyst for the turnaround.
Of his four tackles outside of the early sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick, all were against the run, and three of them registered as stops, including one for a loss of four yards on running back Mark Walton. He has six tackles for loss on the season, and 26 over the span of the past three years.
And he is in a contract year, let’s not forget. In his fifth season, he knows that he’ll be 27 by the time free agency hits. He is on pace to have the best statistical season of his career, which should align him to cash in nicely in free agency. Yet he maintains that he wants to do that here, in Pittsburgh.
“Everybody thinks about a contract”, he admitted to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but added, “I don’t think about it as far as being with other teams. I want to be able to play with these guys. It’s a special defense that we’ve got”.
His pairing with Watt is proving to be the best bookmark edge pair that they have had in Pittsburgh since the heydays of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. With 10 sacks between them in seven games, they are on-pace to produce the first 20-plus-sack season from an outside linebacker due since they last did it nearly a decade ago.
And both are strong run defenders. The question that remains is whether or not this pair will continue to have the opportunity to grow together. I think there is little doubt that Watt will be here for the long haul, but it’s hard to envision the Steelers being able to retain Dupree beyond this season, which will leave a significant hole—hard as that might be for some to believe—in the defense.