This should be a fun conversation to have. Pro Football Focus recently put out its free agency previews for all 32 teams, highlighting the key free agents pending for each team, notable targets for release, and a player or players that they believe that team should target.
The site offers two strong opinions when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. One, do not re-sign Bud Dupree. Let the edge rusher walk, following his breakout season in 2019, arguing that while his sack numbers are up, his pass-rush productivity is not. Two, target the tight end position, going after Hunter Henry in free agency.
“The biggest thing Pittsburgh must not do this free agency is pay edge defender Bud Dupree”, Anthony Treasch writes. “Don’t get us wrong — he made several impact plays in 2019 with 13 sacks and four forced fumbles. But he also generated pressure at a very concerning rate…Among 102 edge defenders to rush the passer at least 200 times in 2019, Dupree was 65th in pressure rate. That’s not someone you want to pay $14 million a year for when you are already in a bad spot with your cap space”.
On the face of it, that’s not a bad argument to make. It’s true that Dupree’s pressure rate is still far from spectacular. And it’s also true, as Dupree should know, that sack totals can be somewhat variable from year to year. But can the Steelers afford not to sign him, when they have no other option?
On the flip side, tight end is rightfully regarded as a need for the Steelers, especially with Vance McDonald having the opposite of the breakout season that was anticipated for him. Hunter Henry, when healthy, would be an obvious upgrade.
If the Steelers can maneuver it, bringing in tight end Hunter Henry for a sub-$10 million contract is absolutely the best route to go. Henry has had some bad injuries the past couple of seasons, but when he was healthy in 2016-17, he was behind only Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce in two-year receiving grade. It’s hard telling how good Big Ben’s arm will be coming back from his elbow surgery, so he’ll need all the weapons he can get.
When healthy is a big qualifier, however, and that’s still a lot to spend for a tight end whose health you have to question. The move would almost certainly have to come concurrently with the release of McDonald, and Nick Vannett probably wouldn’t be re-signed either, so you’re putting all your eggs in a damaged basket at a price tag the team has never paid before for an outside free agent.
So I present it to you. What do you think of PFF’s free agency profile for the Steelers? Should they balk at the cost of re-signing Dupree, who also has something of an injury history, or are they so in need of somebody that it’s still their only course of action? They’ll have to release people just to create the cap space to be able to do it.