The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers don’t need Bud Dupree back to retain their elite pass rush.
Explanation: While Bud Dupree did have a career year a season ago with 11.5 sacks—he never had more than six before—it would be fair to argue that he was their fourth-most significant pass rusher, behind T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt while he was healthy, with Javon Hargrave taking on a larger role thereafter. He would necessarily be the most replaceable part, but you generally want to have all parts of a pass rush, as a single weak link could expose the group.
If anything, T.J. Watt made Bud Dupree better. He would make anybody better who lines up across from him, whether it’s Anthony Chickillo or somebody else on the roster or some bargain-bin free agent signing, even a rookie draft pick.
Watt is the centerpiece of the pass rush, but the interior dominance of Heyward and Tuitt is the nucleus. Their ability to collapse the pocket produces so much of what the edge defenders do, and yet they are productive players in their own right. The fact that Tuitt missed most of last season makes the case that Dupree is not required even stronger. Remember, they were getting 50-sack seasons before his ‘breakout’ year. They’ll just blitz more if they have to, and they have an untapped blitzer in Devin Bush still.
It’s true that the Steelers had 50-sack seasons a couple of years leading into Dupree’s ‘breakout’ year, but Dupree was also a part of that in creating pressure. And more importantly, this past year’s season was more successful than the last two in terms of generating pressure and causing chaos. That’s what defines elite, rather than pure sack numbers. 38 takeaways versus 15. Don’t forget Dupree forced four fumbles. That matters.
And his improvements, really over the last two years, allowed the Steelers to get pressure with its front four more frequently and rely less on blitzers. Again, a big deal, and something you’re not going to replicate with a replacement-level player. It can be debated if Dupree is worth what they’ll have to pay to keep him, but it can’t be debated that they’ll be a worse team, with a worse pass rush, with whoever replaces him if he’s not here.