Bud Dupree

AFC North Notes: Judon, Bengals, Steelers

After being franchise-tagged last year, Matt Judon appears closer to hitting the market for the first time. The free agent-to-be has said a return to the Ravens would require circumstances to align perfectly, providing a clear indication a hometown discount will not be in the cards. Judon, though, is not ruling out a Ravens return. If the veteran edge rusher is to leave Baltimore, however, he may not be willing to sign with one of the league’s rebuilding teams. Judon said he wants to land with a winning team, per veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson (on Twitter). The 29-year-old defender joins teammate Yannick Ngakoue, who did not see full-time action for the Ravens in the playoffs, and Shaquil Barrett and Bud Dupree as edge rushers eager to cash in after being tagged last year.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Carl Lawson is on the precipice of free agency for the first time, separating him from a few of this year’s UFA edge rushers. But the Bengals may not be willing to let him go. The Bengals are prepared to use their franchise tag on Lawson, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. While some believe the team would rather tag cornerback William Jackson, more buzz has emerged about the team keeping the four-year defensive end cog. Although Lawson only tallied 5.5 sacks last season, his 32 quarterback hits ranked second in the NFL.
  • With the cap-strapped Steelers unlikely to tag anyone this year, they would need to extend Dupree before March 17 to keep him off the market. GM Kevin Colbert did not indicate Dupree would be prioritized. “We have to adjust and know that he might be a possibility, he might not be,” Colbert said, via SI.com. “We’re never going to eliminate a great player like Bud Dupree, because we don’t know what Bud’s market is, and Bud doesn’t know what his market is at this point.” The legal tampering period begins March 15. It is possible the 2021 salary cap number will not emerge until shortly before that date, complicating matters for teams hoping to extend big-ticket free agents.
  • Despite Zach Banner suffering a torn ACL in Week 1, Mike Tomlin informed the offensive tackle he had a path to regain a starting job in 2021. “Coach T looked at me and said, ‘You are my answer for 2021, so I need you to focus on your knee, don’t worry about anything else,’” Banner said, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly (subscription required). “That was the best thing that I could’ve heard.” Banner, Pittsburgh’s Week 1 right tackle starter, re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year, $1.75MM deal. A similar contract may be in the cards for the four-year veteran. The Steelers may be leaning toward letting Villanueva, their six-year left tackle starter, walk in free agency. One season remains on right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor‘s rookie contract.

Steelers’ Bud Dupree Done For Year

Steelers edge rusher Bud Dupree has torn his ACL and will miss the remainder of the year, according to Mike Garafolo and Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com (Twitter link). The Steelers will make it all official today by placing Dupree on the injured reserve list. 

This is exactly what fans feared when Dupree hurt his left knee on a non-contact injury in the second quarter against the Ravens. The 27-year-old was a key part of the Steelers’ success this year, notching eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and 26 total stops. Without him, they’ll be leaning even more on T.J. Watt and they’ll need more production out of third-round rookie Alex Highsmith. With middle linebacker Devin Bush also done for the year, the Steelers will have to keep their streak alive without two key members of their front seven.

The Steelers kept Dupree from the open market with a one-year franchise tender for linebackers worth $15.8MM. It’s not clear whether Dupree succeeded in getting recategorized as a defensive end to make $17.8MM, but the end result is roughly the same. Dupree is on course for free agency, and the timing of his injury is not quite ideal.

Still, Dupree turned in a strong, complete season in 2019 with a career-high 11.5 sacks — 5.5 more than his previous single-season best. Dupree figures to be one of the most sought-after free agent edge options this year, second only to Yannick Ngakoue.

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Steelers’ Bud Dupree Files Grievance

Less than an hour after news emerged of Shaquil Barrett‘s grievance to be tagged as a defensive end, Bud Dupree followed suit. The Steelers’ franchise-tagged linebacker file a grievance to be tagged as a D-end, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Dupree signed his tender earlier this offseason. He stands to make $15.8MM on the linebacker tag. This year’s defensive end tag is worth $17.8MM.

Regarding a long-term deal, Dupree and the Steelers are not close on numbers, per Rapoport. While Dupree did not submit a stunning breakout season in 2019, he did register a career-high 11.5 sacks — 5.5 more than the former first-round pick’s previous single-season best. It would make sense if the Steelers sought a rental season to see if the inconsistent pass rusher can replicate his 2019 performance.

The three 3-4 outside linebackers to be tagged this year — Barrett, Dupree and Matt Judon — have either filed grievances or saw a preemptive pay raise. The Ravens gave Judon a $1MM raise from the linebacker tag, agreeing to pay him $16.8MM on his tag this season. It doesn’t hurt for Dupree to push for a similar arrangement, even if the sixth-year defender does not win a grievance.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Status Of All 15 Tagged Players Prior to July 15 Extension Deadline

The clock is ticking for tagged players to sign extensions with their teams, per the league calendar.

July 15: At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2020 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.

With less than nine days remaining until the deadline, let’s take a look at where each of the 15 tagged players stand.

Already Signed Tag

*Received transition tag (vs. franchise tag)

Haven’t Signed Tag, Won’t Hold Out

Haven’t Signed Tag, Threatening Hold Out

Cam Heyward To Earn Aaron Donald Money?

Earlier this month, we learned that there have been no recent contract talks between the Steelers and star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who is entering the final season of his current deal. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic believes Pittsburgh should make Heyward its top priority, even ahead of some of its younger talent that will be due for extensions soon, but that could be a tall order.

For one, the Steelers always spend to the cap and often push money into future seasons in order to stay cap compliant. As Kaboly observes, the team pushed $21MM of salary into the 2021 season, with the expectation that the salary cap would increase by at least $15MM next year. But the 2021 cap may be reduced as a result of the pandemic, which could put Pittsburgh in a bind.

Secondly, even without the pandemic, the club may have found it tough to keep the 31-year-old Heyward in the fold. A source tells Kaboly that Heyward could fetch Aaron Donald money on the open market, due to his overall excellent play and his ability to line up both inside and outside (plus, in 2019, Heyward graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second-best interior defender, behind only Donald himself). Heyward’s age could limit his payday a bit, but he is only two years older than Donald, who is playing on a six-year, $135MM deal that included $50MM guaranteed at signing. Though it would be surprising to see Heyward cash in to that degree, his next contract will certainly be massive in its own right, so the Steelers may have no other choice but to look elsewhere.

Likewise, Kaboly suggests that the Steelers will not extend outside linebacker Bud Dupree prior to the July 15 deadline for franchised players, and the team will almost assuredly not tag him against next season. Indeed, we haven’t heard of any contract talks between the two sides, and it looks as if Dupree will play out the 2020 campaign on his $16MM+ tender, with an eye towards hitting the open market in 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers’ Bud Dupree Signs Franchise Tender

Linebacker Bud Dupree has signed his franchise tender, according to an announcement from the Steelers. Assuming he’s tagged as a linebacker, Dupree will be slated to earn over $16MM. If he pushes back and manages to get tagged at the defensive end position, he’ll be set for $18MM+.

Of course, Dupree and the Steelers will have until July 15 to hash out a long-term contract regardless of the tag value, and given that Pittsburgh is right up against the cap, both player and team are likely hoping they can get that done. Though Dupree had not exactly lived up to his billing as a 2015 first-round draft choice prior to the 2019 campaign, he had a terrific platform year, piling up a career-best 11.5 sacks while also displaying some ability in setting the edge against the run.

Though there was some thought that the Steelers could look to trade Dupree after slapping him with the franchise tag, that no longer appears to be in play. Instead, the club will head into the 2020 campaign (and probably beyond) with a fearsome Dupree-T.J. Watt combo that will keep opposing QBs awake at night. Indeed, the Steelers ranked third in defensive DVOA last season (first against the pass), and if they can get a healthy season out of QB Ben Roethlisberger, they could certainly make a return trip to the playoffs.

If the two sides do work out a multi-year pact, it would not be surprising to see the Kentucky product land something in the neighborhood of a five-year, $80MM deal, with around $30MM or so fully-guaranteed. That might seem high for a player who hasn’t made a Pro Bowl yet, but given the importance of edge rushers and Dupree’s well-timed breakout, it would be in line with his open market value.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Expected To Tag Bud Dupree

MARCH 16: The Steelers will proceed with a Dupree tag, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). The team is interestingly $3MM-plus over the cap before any Dupree dollars are added to its 2020 payroll, per OverTheCap. A Dupree tag would cost Pittsburgh $15.8MM, if he’s tagged as an outside linebacker. The defensive end tag comes in at $17.8MM. The team has until 3pm CT Wednesday to get under the cap.

MARCH 2: Although the Steelers are projected to hold just $1.5MM in cap space — 31st in the NFL as of Monday — they are still planning on keeping one of their top defenders off the market.

Pittsburgh is preparing to use its franchise tag on Bud Dupree, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). Dupree played out his rookie contract, using his fifth-year option season as a value-raising campaign that has him looming as one of this free agent class’ top pass rushers.

The linebacker franchise tag is expected to come in north of $16MM, though Dupree would surely lobby to be tagged as a defensive end ($18MM-plus). Nevertheless, a tag loomed as a possibility for weeks.

The 2015 first-round pick shattered his previous career-best sack total, registering 11.5 last season. While Dupree has not quite panned out like the Steelers hoped when they took him 22nd overall, he profiles as a key piece for the franchise’s reinvigorated defense. The Steelers ranked third in defensive DVOA last season (first against the pass), and their Dupree-T.J. Watt edge tandem served as a key reason for the re-emergence.

Watt will clearly be the long-term priority, but the Steelers’ chances of assembling a Super Bowl contender around 38-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will improve if Dupree returns for the 2020 season. This could also be a tag-and-trade precursor. Three teams dealt franchise-tagged edge rushers last year, and the Steelers are certainly not flush with cap space. They also traded their 2020 first- and third-round picks to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush and made need future draft capital to pursue a Roethlisberger heir apparent.

Dupree, 27, topped out at six sacks from 2015-18. His 17 quarterback hits last season also ranked 29th. Watt posted 36 QB hits. If the Steelers go into free agency with a Dupree tag on their books, it will nearly tie their hands completely. A franchise that frequently restructures contracts to create immediate cap space likely will go to that well again soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Patriots, Texans, Caserio, Panthers, Holcomb, Broncos, Chubb, Steelers, Dupree

The Patriots have a big offseason ahead of them. Obviously there’s still the Tom Brady situation to work out, but there are some important behind the scenes decisions that need to be made as well. The front office is in a bit of limbo, as two prominent execs in Nick Caserio and Monti Ossenfort are both on expiring contracts that run out in May. The Texans originally tried to hire Caserio as their GM last year, which resulted in tampering charges. There’s now a good chance that both Caserio and Ossenfort move on from the Pats before the 2020 season, per Albert Breer of SI.com.

Even though we just heard recently that the Texans weren’t going to hire a GM and would continue with Bill O’Brien running the show, Breer writes that the “Texans would find a way to hire him as GM” if Caserio wanted to work in Houston. If Caserio and Ossenfort both leave, Breer writes that the Patriots would likely promote Dave Ziegler. It was rumored that Josh McDaniels might’ve wanted to take Ziegler with him had he landed the head coaching job in Cleveland.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Al Holcomb is back in Carolina. The Panthers have hired Holcomb to be their run game coordinator, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Holcomb was linebackers coach under Ron Rivera in Carolina for five years from 2013-17, so this is a homecoming for him. He spent last year as the Browns’ run game coordinator, and found himself in need of a new job after Freddie Kitchens got bounced from Cleveland. He had previously served as defensive coordinator with the Cardinals under Steve Wilks in 2018. He was a grad assistant at Temple back in the day, which could explain his connection to new Panthers coach Matt Rhule, who was previously the head coach at Temple.
  • Broncos pass-rusher Bradley Chubb showed a lot of promise as a rookie, racking up 12 sacks in 2018. Unfortunately his sophomore campaign was cut short, as he tore an ACL in Denver’s fourth game. On the bright side his recovery seems to be going well, and GM John Elway recently said that he should be ready for OTAs in a few months, per Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post. Chubb was the fifth overall pick out of N.C. State two years ago.
  • The Steelers are likely to place the franchise tag on impending free agent outside linebacker Bud Dupree, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While Pittsburgh very much wants to retain him for 2020, Dulac writes that the team is unlikely to pursue a longterm extension with Dupree because the “money is being earmarked for a big contract” for fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the near future. Dupree was drafted in the first round back in 2015, and his career got off to a rocky start. He’s since become more reliable though, starting at least 15 games in each of the past three years. He had his best year as a pro this past season, when he started all 16 games and racked up 11.5 sacks. Amusingly, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the Le’Veon Bell debacle isn’t going to impact how they use the tag moving forward. “I don’t think that affects the way we think about franchise tags or anything at this point,” Rooney said. “We had one, I’ll call it unusual experience, and I think it was that — an unusual experience.

Steelers Won’t Extend Dupree, Davis, Hargrave Before Season

While the Steelers are working on a new contract for cornerback Joe Haden, the club doesn’t plan to negotiate extensions for edge rusher Bud Dupree, safety Sean Davis, or defensive tackle Javon Hargrave before the start of the regular season, according to Ed Bouchette of The Athletic. All three defenders will become free agents at season’s end, but Pittsburgh isn’t planning to discuss new deals until the offseason.

The Steelers may have a myriad of reasons not to extend Dupree, Davis, and/or Hargrave, but financial concerns are almost certainly at play. Pittsburgh currently has the fourth-least amount of cap space (~$5.213MM) in the NFL, per Over the Cap, and the club’s outlook isn’t much better next year. In 2020, the Steelers project to have just $7.7MM in available funds, seventh-least in the league.

Dupree, a first-round pick in the 2015 draft, will earn more than $9MM in 2019 while playing under his fifth-year option. An athletic testing marvel coming out of Kentucky, Dupree has mostly failed to put those traits to use in the NFL. He’s posted only 20 sacks through four seasons, and last year ranked 45th among 58 qualifying edge rushers in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush productivity, which measures pressure created on a per-snap basis with an emphasis on sacks.

After spending most of his first two pro seasons closer to the line of scrimmage, Davis moved to free safety full-time in 2018, spending 779 of his 1,104 defensive snaps playing center field. The change was for the best, as Davis fared much better playing deep than he had in the box. He’s since hired super-agent Drew Rosenhaus, and noted the safety market’s recent explosion could have a commensurate effect on his next contract.

Like most run-clogging interior defenders in today’s NFL, Hargrave isn’t quite a full-time player. In each of his three seasons with the Steelers, he’s played between 43% and 50% of the club’s defensive snaps. Hargrave, who’s missed only one game in his career, could be a candidate for more passing down work in 2019 after posting 6.5 sacks and earning PFF’s 16th-highest pass-rush grade among defensive tackles last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers

De’Anthony Thomas was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia possession on Saturday, according to the Allen County (Kan.) Sheriff’s Office (via KMBC.com). The Chiefs wide receiver has since been released from Allen County Jail on bond. Thomas has played his entire NFL career with the Chiefs, signing a one-year deal to return to the team in 2018 after his rookie contract expired. The wideout’s latest Kansas City deal expired after this season. Thomas, 26, landed on IR in October.

As the Patriots venture to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII, here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Needs exist at many spots on the Raiders‘ roster, but they are expected to conduct a defense-heavy draft, Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. Oakland added several defenders in free agency last year, most of whom on one-year deals. The Silver and Black finished with an incredible 13 sacks — 17 fewer than the next-closest team (the Giants) this season and fewest in a season since the 2008 Chiefs, who also traded their best pass rusher that year (Jared Allen), recorded just 10 — and lack long-term answers at just about every position defensively. The Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades garnered the Raiders, whose own first-round pick became No. 4 overall, the Nos. 24 and 27 selections.
  • The Steelers exercised Bud Dupree‘s fifth-year option last May but have not decided on his long-term status with the team, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dupree collected 5.5 sacks this season and has 20 in his career but has not lived up to his first-round billing. Dupree’s option price is $9.23MM. It would not be surprising if neither Dupree nor 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns inked second contracts with the Steelers, Fittipaldo writes. Burns’ fifth-year option decision is due in May. Considering Burns played just 308 snaps this season and will carry an option cost of close to $10MM, it would be incredibly surprising if Pittsburgh exercised it.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered an injury in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. While the Associated Press notes the injury that caused the Steelers wideout to leave the game was just a bruised knee, the second-year wideout was limping en route to the AFC team bus. Smith-Schuster may be on the verge of becoming Pittsburgh’s centerpiece receiver, should Antonio Brown be dealt. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be in danger of missing OTA time, however.
  • Included in Seth Wickersham’s must-read ESPN.com piece about the Jimmy Haslam-era Browns: a near-deal that would have added to the Browns and Texans‘ unique quarterback pipeline. After Cleveland chose Johnny Manziel in the 2014 first round, then-Browns GM Ray Farmer had to calm down a “furious” Brian Hoyer. The Texans soon called to offer their No. 33 overall pick for Cleveland’s then-starting quarterback, but Farmer declined the deal to get control of a draft that had gone haywire (with Mike Pettine leading the way for Justin Gilbert and Haslam behind the Manziel move). Hoyer played one more season with the Browns and in 2015 signed with the Texans, who used that No. 33 pick on offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo.