Even though we still have one more (non-exhibition) NFL game to play during the 2019 season before we can tie a bow on everything, the reality is that for 30 teams and their corresponding fanbases, it’s already time for offseason mode. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have been in offseason mode since going back to the end of the 2019 calendar year.
There are, of course, two major components to the offseason, those being the signing and re-signing of veteran players and the drafting of rookie players. The former comes first, more or less beginning immediately, with teams able to negotiate with their own pending free agents, with unrestricted free agency coming in mid-March before the NFL Draft in late April.
The Steelers have some names of consequence currently slated to hit the open market this year, namely Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave at the top of the pile, but also Sean Davis, Artie Burns, and to a lesser extent, Tyler Matakevich.
The team seems resigned to the likelihood, as does the player, that it wouldn’t make financial sense to try to retain Hargrave, who can be paid much more by a 4-3 team who will be able to offer him a lot more playing time than a Steelers defense with a healthy front line would.
Dupree, however, is an every-down player coming off of his long-awaited breakout season. While he is not a Pro Bowler, he has risen his craft up to the level that justifies being paid, and that is what the Steelers will be trying to do with him this offseason.
Earlier on, Pro Football Focus published a list of the top 50 players who were scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March. Dupree did not make that list. But evidently, he was close. The site recently expanded the list to include the top 100 players, and the five-year veteran did place 52nd, coming just two places short of making that top 50.
That does put him ahead of other edge defenders, Dante Fowler, Shaq Lawson, and Matthew Judon. But he is also ranked behind Robert Quinn, Kyle Van Noy, Arik Armstead, Yannick Ngakuoe, Shaquil Barrett, and Jadeveon Clowney.
Dupree put up career-high numbers almost across the board in 2019. In addition to almost doubling his previous best with 11.5 sacks, he also posted 68 tackles with 16 for a loss, 17 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, two recoveries, and three passes defensed.
The Steelers originally drafted him with the 22nd pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Coming out of Kentucky, the Wildcats were in a state of transition on defense while he was there, and he didn’t have a position coach as a result. Injuries throughout the early stages of his career also hampered his development.
Now the team must decide, however, if they believe that he can continue to offer this level of play for the next several years. It appears they have made that determination in the affirmative already.