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: Bud Dupree deserves to be paid the franchise tag price of a defensive end.
Explanation: As notions of position continue to evolve and adapt with the times—reflected in changes in how the All-Pro List is decided—some distinctions that are fading with the evolution of play remain more hardline within the numbers. A perfect example is the notion of an ‘edge defender’, which can be either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, different positions playing in different schemes who are asked to do the same thing: rush the passer.
Distinctions between the 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker are rapidly fading little by little every year as all teams continue to move deeper into a nickel package as their base defense. The primary defense that nearly every team now uses consists of four players on the front line with two linebackers and five defensive backs. Whether they get there by taking a lineman or a linebacker off the field is immaterial.
The reason that the defensive end tag is as high as it is is because of the 4-3 defensive end. The 3-4 defensive end benefits from this, whereas the 3-4 outside linebacker is hurt by being grouped in with inside linebackers, who command lower salaries.
The franchise tag value is not based on merit, but by position. Dupree’s position is essentially that of a defensive end, as an end-line defender in a nickel front, so he should be paid accordingly. Whether or not he deserves to be paid is a debate about whether or not he should be tagged, not about which tag he should be assigned.
You can make the argument all you want about what is what, but the bottom line is that franchise tag values are collectively bargained, and ‘edge defender’ is not a standardized position. While 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers may have a similar role, they are not the same position and are asked to do different things.
Matthew Judon, who was a Pro Bowler (as an alternate) last season, accepted a reduced raise with the Baltimore Ravens, the two sides splitting the difference between the defensive end and linebacker tag values. That was a generous gesture on the team’s part to show good faith and not one that they had to take. It’s not the owners’ fault that an ‘edge defender’ tag does not exist.