Every time a team has a significant player slated to hit free agency and expected to be able to command a price tag their team seems unlikely to afford—especially when said player is coming off a career year—it’s commonplace to hear from teammates campaigning for him to try to get him to stay.
That is where we now are with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bud Dupree, the fifth-year outside linebacker who came tantalizingly close to doubling his previous career-best in sacks, reaching 11.5 this year. He also reached career-highs in tackles, tackles for loss, quarterback hits, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries, and most likely is listed as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Partly due to natural progression, partly due to health—and definitely due to improvements in the secondary giving the pass rush more time—Dupree truly came into his own this season and emerged as a complete player, the sort of edge defender who could be a cornerstone of a defense, especially when paired with a talent the likes of T.J. Watt.
But the Steelers are now on the cusp of losing him to another team just as he establishes himself as this sort of player. How high of a priority will it be for them to try to retain him? Because it will cost them quite a bit, including potentially painful salary cap casualties, in order to do so.
“I will really, really hope that we can keep Bud”, Brooke Pryor quoted Joe Haden as saying for ESPN. “He’s playing amazing ball, him and T.J., I mean, they’re dominant linebackers in the league. You never know how the money works. He might’ve just played himself into crazy numbers per year. He deserves it all. I hope that the Steelers can finesse it, figure it out because if we can keep those two dudes, it’ll be sick”.
It will be sick, to be sure. As a duo, they combined for 26 sacks this season to go along with 10 forced fumbles, six recoveries, and two interceptions. To get that kind of production out of the outside linebacker position gives me flashbacks of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. It’s almost amazing that neither of them scored a touchdown this year, though Dupree does have one in his career.
We won’t know for months whether or not his future lies in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, but we know that there’s a good chance that he moves on. The question is, will they be able to find anybody to fill his shoes? They have no proven performers on the current roster, nor do they have much cap space or draft capital.