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Plausibility Of Bud Dupree Returning To Steelers If An Offseason Cap Casualty

With several teams looking to get cap compliant prior to the new league year starting in March, tough decisions need to be made regarding the current state of every team’s roster and releasing some veteran players to free up cap space would be the wise move given either their lack of production or the team’s need to get compliant with the salary cap.

Bleacher Report recently published an article highlighting eight potential cap casualties this offseason with the first one on the list being none other than former Pittsburgh Steeler and current Tennessee Titans edge rusher Bud Dupree.

“The Tennessee Titans are projected to be $24.1 million over the salary cap, and they’ll likely look at multiple avenues of creating cap space,” Bleacher Report’s Christopher Knox said regarding Dupree. Dupree was coming off a torn ACL when he signed his deal and has logged just seven sacks in two years with the Titans. That’s not the sort of production Tennessee paid for, and it could look to get out of the deal this offseason. Releasing Dupree outright would save $10.6 million off the cap. Releasing him with a June 1 designation could save $15.8 million. Given Tennessee’s cap situation and Dupree’s value as a pass-rusher, a split feels inevitable.”

When looking at the Titans’ roster and Dupree contract relative to his production with the team the last two seasons, there is a strong likelihood that he is released this offseason. This would make Dupree a free agent, able to sign with any team he chooses. Knox mentioned in the article that Dupree would likely be a Tier II pass rusher on the open market, behind the likes of Yannick Ngakoue and Brandon Graham, but in the same tier as Arden Key and another former Steeler Melvin Ingram.

The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately need to address the OLB position this offseason via the draft of free agency to add a capable rotational player behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith as well as a suitable replacement for either should go down to injury like Watt did this season. Given the position of need, the ties to Pittsburgh having started his career with the Steelers, and the standing relationships with the team, Dupree could be seen as a plausible fit to provide what the Steelers are looking for.

However, while this scenario may be plausible, it is not very probable. In fact, I’d venture to say that it’s highly unlikely that Bud Dupree would return to Pittsburgh this offseason if he were made a free agent for several reasons. First, Dupree will be 30 in February which has been normally a no-go for the Steelers and defensive free agents in the past. He also does not play on special teams units, making him strictly a rotational/depth player.

While The Steelers did break this trend in the past when they signed Ingram before last season, we all saw how that turned out. Ingram got frustrated with his role in Pittsburgh and asked for a trade, getting dealt to the Chiefs. Given that Dupree has been a starter for a majority of his NFL career and would be coming off a big-money deal, he will likely want to take a one-year prove it deal with the opportunity to start so he can cash in next offseason on one more big contract.

The Steelers wouldn’t sign Dupree to start over Highsmith who broke out in 2022 and is entering a contract year himself, taking priority to lock up long-term. They still can and should address the position in free agency but given their cap situation and the number of their own players that should re-sign this offseason, it’s hard to see them extending an offer of more than $3-5 million for a potential EDGE3. While Dupree should expect a massive pay cut for the $17 million in base salary he’s scheduled to make next season, it’s hard to see him take that kind of deal with his defensive snaps likely capped should Watt and Highsmith stay healthy.

Given the age, previous injury history, and lack of special teams ability, Pittsburgh will likely look elsewhere to address OLB unless Dupree takes a cost-effective discount to return to Pittsburgh. More likely names that the Steelers could likely target include Tampa Bay’s Anthony Nelson, Las Vegas’ Clelin Ferrell, Cleveland’s Chase Winovich, Jacksonville’s Arden Key, or Miami’s Andrew Van Ginkel. All these options present a younger, cheaper player that has special teams value that Dupree doesn’t present.

Would it be cool to see Bud Dupree back in the Black and Gold? Absolutely. However, I wouldn’t bet my house on it happening as Dave Bryan often says given the various variables at-play.

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