It’s been under 24 hours, and nothing is even official yet, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have already lost two of their unrestricted free agents to contracts agreed to elsewhere. The big shoe to drop was that of Bud Dupree, the seventh-year edge rusher who is reported to be signing a five-year deal worth up to $85 million with the Tennessee Titans.
It was a long and hard-fought road for the former Wildcat to reach this point, with perhaps the toughest road of his journey coming this past year when he suffered a torn ACL. Following a league reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic, many were skeptical of him finding anything but a soft market that would push him into signing a one-year deal and trying again in 2022.
That didn’t happen, of course, or at least it doesn’t look like that will happen, provided that the deal goes through tomorrow, but suffice it to say the Steelers will miss him both on the field and off the field. Among the longest-tenured players remaining on the team, he elicited support from his soon-to-be former teammates after the news came out, particularly from defensive captain Cameron Heyward.
“Damn Tennessee just got a hell of a man in @Bud_Dupree”, Heyward wrote on Twitter after learning that his battery partner on the right side of the team’s defensive line would be parting company. “Y’all just don’t know how great he is! Wishing you nothing but the best”.
Major love! https://t.co/STiJYsVDZg
— Big Bud (@Bud_Dupree) March 16, 2021
Originally drafted 22nd overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dupree was viewed as an athlete with a raw streak. He was not very productive at Kentucky, but tested very well. They changed defensive fronts on him while at school, and he didn’t even have a proper position coach.
His development at the NFL level came along slowly, frustrating fans, though injuries as much as anything else played a role in limiting his advancement. While he generally improved a bit each year, it wasn’t until 2019 that he really blossomed.
Playing under his fifth-year option, in a proverbial ‘contract year’, he had his best season to date, posting 11.5 sacks and recording four forced fumbles on top of that. He was on his way to a second consecutive season with 10-plus sacks a year ago before suffering a torn ACL in the 11th game of the season.
As it would turn out, his knee injury was not deleterious to his market. Through the first day of the legal tampering period, he was able to sign arguably the most lucrative contract of all the edge defenders signed so far. He has arguably the most complete game of the group, including run defense and coverage, so that is to be considered.