Over the weekend, it was reported Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree has filed a grievance with the NFLPA regarding his franchise tag amount and specifically as it relates to his position. While officially listed as an outside linebacker by the Steelers, something that has been the case ever since he was drafted in 2015, Dupree and his side contend that last season he was essentially a defensive end and not a linebacker and because of that, he should be paid a tag amount in 2020 of the former, $17.788 million, and not the latter, $15.828 million. Does Dupree have a good case and what will the outcome of the reported grievance ultimately be? This post is an attempt to answer both of those questions.
For starters, if you are of the opinion that Dupree doesn’t deserve the higher tag amount because of him already signing his tag, or because he hasn’t played well enough in your opinion in his first four NFL season to deserve it, go ahead and stop reading right now and close this post out as that’s not what this kind of grievance is even about. To base an argument on either of those two things is quite stupid. This Dupree grievance is about listed position and the roles of it, in addition to the discrepancy of the tag amounts for the two. It’s also only based on 2019 data and nothing more.
Any defensive player that during a single season predominantly rushes the passer from a starting spot of a yard or closer to the line of scrimmage and outside the guard should be labeled as an EDGE player for tag purposes. In today’s heavy passing NFL game, the distinctions between 4-3 and 3-4 defenses have become quite blurred because of the latter of the two playing so much sub package football that includes a four-man front. Outside linebackers in termed 3-4 defenses are essentially defensive ends when the unit is in whatever sub package they use. For whatever reasons, the NFLPA failed to make sure to close that positional loophole, along with a few others, in the most recently concluded CBA extension negotiations. Shame on them.
As part of his grievance, assuming it makes it to being heard by an arbitrator, both sides will need to present evidence supporting their respective position arguments. According to former NFL agent Joel Corry, how much Dupree dropped into coverage will be an important consideration in that argument as will where he took the most snaps in 2019 (LB vs. DE). So, what do the raw charting stats show us regarding these few things and how do they compare to players around the league that are labeled as EDGE defensive ends? Let’s look.
According to 2019 charting data from Next Gen Stats, Dupree’s defensive positioning at the time of snap last season was on the EDGE of the defensive line on 827 of his 929 total defensive snaps played last season (89%). That data, however, really is insufficient as it just tells us he lined up as an EDGE 89% of the time last season.
How about Dupree as part of four-man fronts in 2019?
Per our own defensive game charting, Dupree was part of four-man defensive front that included two defensive linemen and two outside linebackers on 636 of the 929 (68.5%) plays he was on the field for in 2019. While we have not dug for the exact count, it’s a good bet that most of those 636 snaps came with Dupree being on the edge of those four-man fronts.
Dupree, according to Pro Football Focus charting, played on 590 pass plays in 2019. They also have him down for 980 total snaps, which is because they include some penalty plays. They also have Dupree down for just 48 pass coverage snaps in 2019, or just 8.1% of all passing play snaps. How did that ‘in coverage” percentage rank league-wide in 2019 compared to other players officially listed as EDGE defensive ends?
Below is a table of data from PFF that includes the 25 EDGE players that played the most total amount of defensive snaps in 2019. Dupree, as you can see, played the second-most amount of snaps by an EDGE in 2019.
But what about drop/coverage percentages compared to other defensive ends? This is the lone technicality that Dupree really has working against him in his grievance and why I wrote in the original post that while he has a strong case, it might not be strong enough to win.
Of the 10 EDGEs listed as defensive ends that made the top 25 total snaps played players listed below, eight of them registered a much lower percentage of coverage snaps than Dupree did in 2019. Dupree did, however, register the second-lowest percentage of coverage snaps of the 15 designated outside linebackers that made the cut for this study. That’s quite a shame and especially because Dupree was charted by PFF as being in coverage just 48 times in total, an extremely low amount and especially when it comes to Steelers outside linebackers.
Dupree’s 8.1 percent in-coverage rate on passing plays last season is even lower than that of Baltimore Ravens EDGE, Matthew Judon, who like Dupree, filed a positional grievance this offseason after being issued the franchise tag. That fact might wind up being an interesting element in all of this and might ultimately result in a quick outcome that’s considered very fair for both Dupree and the Steelers.
In late May, it was reported that the Ravens and Judon agreed to a compromise as a result of his grievance. In short, the two sides decided to settle for the difference between the defensive end and linebacker tag amounts as being what Judon would earn in 2020 should a long-term extension not be reached prior to the July 15 deadline. That amount the two sides agreed upon is $16.808 million for 2020.
Will the Steelers and Dupree agree to compromise just like the Raves and Judon did? Personally, I think that’s the fairest thing that could happen in this situation after parsing all the data. Sure, both sides could push hard on their perspective sides of the grievance to save/earn an extra $980,000 but splitting the difference would save a lot of time.
So, how will this Dupree grievance ultimately play out?
Personally, I expect a Judon-like compromise to be the outcome and will be surprised if it’s not. I also now don’t expect the Steelers and Dupree to agree on a long-term contract extension by the July 15 deadline. We’ll see soon on both.
PFF 2019 EDGE SNAP DATA
|EDGE PLAYER||POS||TEAM||TOT SNAPS||RUSH SNAPS||RS %||COVER SNAPS||CS %||TOTAL PASS SNAPS||TPCS %|
|Kyle Van Noy||OLB||NE||814||449||55.2%||86||10.6%||535||16.1%|
|Harold Landry III||OLB||TEN||953||544||57.1%||79||8.3%||623||12.7%|
|Dante Fowler Jr.||OLB||LA||880||509||57.8%||58||6.6%||567||10.2%|