Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree certainly is having an impressive 2019 season and that includes the former first-round draft pick showing us a few things we haven’t seen a lot of since he came into league such as him converting speed to power on a very consistent basis. With Dupree seemingly destined to have a career season when the dust finally settles, more than a few times I’ve been asked via email or Twitter if there’s any way the Steelers can retain their right starting outside linebacker past 2019.
Dupree is currently in the final year of his current contract, the fifth-year option year that the Steelers picked up ahead of the 2018 regular season. He’s currently earning a base salary of $9.232 million. Dupree has also registered 29 total tackles, four sacks, two defensed passes and a forced fumble in the first seven games of the season and that puts him on pace for a career year. Come March, he will become an unrestricted free agent if he hasn’t been re-signed by the Steelers by then.
Outside of him signing a new deal with the Steelers not long after the 2019 season is over with, the Steelers would likely need to play either the transition tag or franchise tag on Dupree to have a shot at keeping him in Pittsburgh at least another year. The franchise tag amount for linebackers in 2020 is currently projected by Over the Cap to be $16.266 million with the transition tag amount projected to be $14.085 million.
Using the transition tag on Dupree, however, certainly leaves open a real chance of the outside linebacker still signing elsewhere should he sign an offer sheet with another team and the Steelers choose not to match. A team that loses a transition tagged player to another team also receives zero compensation. Losing Dupree that way seemingly would affect the compensatory draft pick formula as well and thus Dupree would not count in that. In short, the Steelers using the transition tag really seems very unlikely.
What about using the franchise tag? If I’m Dupree and the Steelers seem like they might want to retain me, I make them place the franchise tag on me by the 2020 deadline. Remember, that tag amount for linebackers is expected to be around $16.266 million. If he were to receive that tag from the Steelers, Dupree would then tie up that same amount in salary cap charge barring him signing a long-term contract extension that would more than likely have an avenge yearly value of the tag amount or slightly higher.
Basically, Dupree would likely expect a multiyear deal that had a new money average of around $17 million, which is almost twice what he earned in 2018. Is he worth that much money for one very good season?
Temporary or not, the Steelers would have a rough time accommodating a Dupree 2020 cap charge of $16.266 million. Keep in mind that the team will seemingly need to cut a few players such as wide receiver Donte Moncrief, inside linebacker Mark Barron, outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo prior to the start of the league year in March regardless of what they decide to do with Dupree. The cutting of those three players would clear a much-needed $14.25 million salary cap space prior to roster displacement taking place and I can’t see that freed up money being used on a tag for Dupree.
A new contract for defensive end Cameron Heyward might clear another $3 million in cap space or so that will be needed and there’s a good chance that tackle Alejandro Villanueva, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner all sign extensions at some point during the 2020 offseason. How can you give Dupree $16 million or more a season when you have Villanueva only earning $5 million in 2020?
Yes, it would be nice if the Steelers could manage to find a way to keep Dupree past 2020 but it just doesn’t seem likely to happen. Placing either the franchise or transition tag on Dupree doesn’t make a lot of sense and assuming neither instrument is used, Dupree will test free agency and likely find a team willing to pay him around $16 million a season or more. He, Jadeveon Clowney, Dante Fowler, Jr., Whitney Mercilus, Shaquil Barrett and Markus Golden are all likely to cash in next March.
The only way that Dupree likely returns to Pittsburgh in 2020 would be via an under-market deal and only after not receiving a favorable response during the first few weeks of free agency. When was the last time a higher-priced unrestricted free agent re-signed back in Pittsburgh after the start of free agency? That sort of thing just doesn’t happen.
Here’s to Dupree having a fantastic second half of the 2019 season as such a happening would potentially increase his free agent market value and thus ultimately provide the Steelers a high compensatory draft pick value whenever he signs with another team next March.