While it’s been well over a year ago since the Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with outside linebackers coach Joey Porter, it still doesn’t mean that the former player-turned-coach hasn’t been following the team or the specific players that he coached since. On Monday, Porter talked some about two of the Steelers current outside linebackers that he coached, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, while attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon at the Holy Innocents Parish.
“I talk to those guys [Watt and Dupree], wish them well, criticize them every now and then,” Porter reportedly said Monday afternoon, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But they played real, real well last year. I was happy for both of them. They both did a good job.
Watt and Dupree indeed did combine to put up fantastic stats during the 2019 season, their first season without having Porter as their position coach. Watt recorded 14.5 sacks and forced eight fumbles in 2019 on his way to earning his first First-Team All-Pro honor of his NFL career. As for Dupree, he also had a great season and showed quite a bit of improvement as a pass rusher on his way to registering 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
“T.J., man, he’s what I thought he was going to be,” Porter said Monday. “You guys used to mess with me when told you Bud was going to get it. It just took him a while. Now he’s got it.”
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Dupree this offseason after his long overdue breakout season and now it will be interesting to see if a long-term contract will ultimately get done with the team’s former first-round draft pick out of Kentucky. While the Steelers have stated all offseason that the goal is to get Dupree signed long-term this summer, so far there’s been no sign that a new deal will get done by the July 15 deadline.
If Dupree does not sign a long-term contract extension prior to July 15, the odds that 2020 will be his final season as a member of the Steelers will then increase drastically. In short, there’s a good chance that the tandem of Watt and Dupree has just one season remaining, instead of longer like Porter currently thinks could be the case.
“Now you have a tandem, and that tandem can rock for the next decade,” Porter said Monday. “They’re both young. You know you’ll get another five or six years out of that tandem. They’re going to be tough, man. One got it early in T.J. Bud is figuring it out, and he still has a lot of football left. It’s going to be good.”
Watt will surely be around at least five more seasons and likely longer. The Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract several weeks ago and that means there’s a great chance he’ll ultimately be signed to an extremely lucrative contract extension by the start of the 2021 regular season.
With the long-term future of Dupree up in the air during the spring, the Steelers made sure to cover their bases at the outside linebacker position in the 2020 NFL Draft as they selected former Charlotte edge-rusher Alex Highsmith in the third-round. While Highsmith isn’t likely to get much playing time on defense during his rookie 2020 season as long as Watt and Dupree both remain healthy, the hope is he will be ready to take over as a starter for the latter in 2021 should the need arise.
“Every tandem has to have a counterpart that makes it good,” Porter said on Monday.
Should Dupree ultimately leave the Steelers after the 2020 season, hopefully Highsmith can become Watt’s productive counterpart in just his second NFL season.