I’m not sure if there was ever a time in Bud Dupree’s professional career in which he wasn’t a divisive figure within the fanbase. Even when he was drafted, at least as memory serves, he had his share of detractors who saw him more as an athlete than a football player. Now, while most acknowledge his improvement, many still view his price as being unacceptable for the level of play he’s able to deliver.
This has never been the position held by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After all, they are the ones paying him, and if they didn’t feel he was worth the investment, they would be…not paying him. In fact, the team has already made it pretty clear that they continue to have every intention of getting him signed to a long-term contract, not simply playing out his franchise tag.
A first-round pick in 2015, Dupree has had a career somewhat stunted by injuries, limiting his growth and productivity between his second and fourth seasons. Year three was particularly rough on him from a fan perspective, but he showed incremental improvement in 2018, and then more significant growth last season that finally bore fruit on his stat sheet.
That culminated in the Steelers’ organization decision earlier this offseason to apply the franchise tag to him, which was not a no-brainer call in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year (especially since it was not then known if there would be a new CBA).
Said Mike Tomlin about his edge rusher, while speaking to John Calipari earlier this week, “I remember coming down there [to Kentucky] for Bud’s Pro Day and seeing that big poster they had on the side of that stadium with his picture on it”, with a chuckle. “Bud’s doing great, man. I’m glad he’s still gonna be with us in 2020. He had a big year last year. Really just coming into his own as a pro, getting into his mid- to late-20s”.
On the topic of Dupree, it is worth remembering that he still has plenty of meat on the bone. He only turned 27 in February, so he has several years of prime play still ahead of him. That is provided that he can manage to stay healthy, which he successfully navigated last season, by no coincidence.
In 2019, he nearly doubled his previous career-high mark for sacks in a single season with 11.5. He posted 16 tackles for loss after averaging 10 in his previous two seasons. He also created four forced fumbles, tripling his career total heading into the season.
As he heads into his sixth season, the Steelers believe that Dupree can still continue to get better. Given that 2019 was easily his best year, that’s no longer an unreasonable assumption. Similarly, Cameron Heyward’s best seasons have come in the past three seasons, now nine years into his career.