Bud Dupree

North Notes: Vikings, Bakhtiari, Dupree

Prior to Teddy Bridgewater‘s career-defining injury at Vikings practice two Augusts ago, Mike Zimmer assumed the 2014 first-round pick would be his quarterback for the remainder of his head-coaching tenure. But the gruesome leg injuries Bridgewater suffered eventually led him out of the Twin Cities and to the Big Apple. Now, the 62-year-old head coach envisions Kirk Cousins, attached to a three-year contract, as the quarterback for the rest of his run as Vikings HC.

I always thought Teddy was going to be my quarterback for my career and these are the way things go,” Zimmer said during a Sirius XM Radio interview. “Now, I hope that Kirk is the quarterback for my career … and it’s long, too. Not one year.”

Zimmer expanded a bit on what drew him to Cousins, though Minnesota certainly wasn’t alone in the rare pursuit of a franchise-level quarterback on the market. But the Vikings weren’t viewed as the obvious choice from the outset, given Case Keenum‘s success in 2017.

Part of it was his accuracy,” Zimmer said of the Cousins pursuit during the interview. “He threw the ball into a lot of tight windows, and we’re seeing that here in camp. Very consistent in the things he was able to do. So I think that was part of it. You know, not too many times is a quarterback that’s really entering his prime at 28 (Cousins turns 30 later this month) get out on the free agency market that’s thrown for 4,000 (yards) for three straight years. I think he’s my fifth quarterback in five years, so I’m hoping we’ve stabilized the quarterback position.”

Here’s the latest from a Vikings rival and the AFC North.

  • The Packers received a scare when a cart transported cornerstone left tackle David Bakhtiari from the practice field Saturday night, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (on Twitter) Bakhtiari suffered a sprained left ankle. He won’t return to action immediately, but at this point, it doesn’t look like the sixth-year lineman will miss regular-season time.
  • Bud Dupree suffered a setback this weekend and is in concussion protocol, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). The Steelers will be without their starting right outside linebacker for a bit, per Fowler, after seeing the fourth-year player start camp strong. Anthony Chickillo and Keion Adams reside as the top backups, per Pittsburgh’s first 2018 depth chart, and will see more time while Dupree is sidelined. Adams was a 2017 seventh-round pick who did not play last season.
  • Jabrill Peppers kept his starting spot after the Browns released their first depth chart, but Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets the battle between the 2017 first-rounder and Derrick Kindred is not over. Both continue to receive first-team reps opposite Damarious Randall, and Ulrich adds each will play plenty in three-safety looks this season (Twitter link). It would, however, be notable if Peppers couldn’t keep his starting job considering what the Browns invested in him. A 2016 fourth-rounder, Kindred’s started 15 NFL games.

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Price, Browns

Two key Steelers will be changing positions. Pittsburgh’s outside linebacker starters, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, will swap spots, with Dupree shifting to the right outside linebacker role and Watt moving to the left side, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes. Dupree’s issues with being too far behind quarterbacks on outside rushes, in a league that features mostly right-handed passers, prompted Keith Butler to relocate him.

What Bud did too much of last year, in my opinion, was he got past the quarterback,” Butler said. “To me, you’re useless when you’re past the quarterback. Now, he won’t be as useless behind the quarterback because he can work back a little bit or he can go up and under where the quarterback won’t see him.”

Although the Steelers exercised Dupree’s fifth-year option, the 2015 first-round pick has not lived up to expectations just yet. The Kentucky product rated as a bottom-10 edge defender, per Pro Football Focus, last season, but the Steelers will try to give him another opportunity to make good on their investment. Butler said the relative inexperience of the players involved in this switch prompted him to wait until the offseason to make this move.

I think I’m more natural on the left side just because I’m more right-hand dominant,” Watt said, via Benz. “I can have a better dip and a better stab. I have more pitches I can throw on the left side.”

Here’s the latest out of the AFC North, shifting to the division’s most pressing issue — Le’Veon Bell‘s status in Pittsburgh.

  • As less than a month remains until the pivotal extension deadline for franchise-tagged players, Bell has not shown up at Steelers workouts. This was expected. But as of last week, the Steelers had yet to resume contract talks with their All-Pro running back. And Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette puts the odds at an extension occurring as longer than the sides continuing their present arrangement. Fittipaldo writes Bell not reaching a long-term agreement would again induce him to skip training camp and the preseason. Of course, Bell and the Steelers failing to come to terms this year could well mean the 26-year-old dynamo will be playing elsewhere in 2019, considering the prohibitive cost for tagging a player three times.
  • Tyrod Taylor will be a free agent at season’s end, but one AFC executive views him as a player who could make Baker Mayfield wait a long time before taking the Browns‘ reins. “Tyrod Taylor could keep Baker Mayfield on the bench for years,” the anonymous staffer said, via Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. This seems unlikely given the investment the Browns made in Mayfield, and the fact full redshirts for first-round QBs rarely occur anymore. But Taylor does have three years’ experience as a starter and has maybe the best cast of wide receivers he’s enjoyed since ascending to a starting role. That said, the risk-averse passer will need to be re-signed for this to occur. It would likely take Mayfield’s development stalling considerably for Cleveland to bring back Taylor.
  • Prior to the Lions taking Arkansas interior lineman Frank Ragnow with their first-round pick, the Bengals had he and Billy Price ranked “pretty much evenly,” Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com notes. After watching the Ohio State product operate this offseason, one that didn’t feature him becoming fully cleared until Monday, the Bengals believe Price might be a better fit for their offense rather than the player who was selected one spot ahead of him. He’s expected to be Cincinnati’s starting center from Day 1.

Steelers Exercise Bud Dupree’s Option

The Steelers have exercised the fifth-year option on linebacker Bud Dupree, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Dupree’s option was considered likely to be exercised, but it was not a slam dunk decision. 

[RELATED: PFR’s 2019 Fifth-Year Option Tracker]

Dupree, 25, had a career highs in sacks (6) and total tackles (40) last season. However, he missed more than half of 2016 with a groin injury and was inconsistent as a rookie. They now believe the former 2015 first-round pick is on track for a solid career, so they’ll extend his deal through 2019 with a salary of $9.2MM+ in the final year.

Dupree is slated to return as the Steelers’ starting left outside linebacker with T.J. Watt on the opposite side and Vince Williams and offseason pickup Jonathan Bostic in the middle. The Steelers could target an ILB in the draft to start ahead of Bostic, but Dupree’s spot is secure.

For what it’s worth, the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus have never been high on the Kentucky product. Last year, his 49.0 overall score ranked him as the eighth-worst qualified edge defender in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Put Le’Veon Bell Talks On Hold

The Steelers are putting negotiations with star running back Le’Veon Bell on hold while the team continues to navigate free agency and prepare for the draft, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. GM Kevin Colbert indicated that his club will resume talks with Bell’s reps “eventually,” and he hopes Bell will report to training camp.

Colbert added, “We’re not intentionally ignoring [Bell’s contract]. More urgent business needs to get taken care of. We will reassess where that is. He’ll reassess where his interests are as well. I anticipate us continuing that process once we get through the free agency period and maybe even through the draft. The draft can change things on both sides.”

We heard several weeks ago that Pittsburgh was getting closer to meeting Bell’s asking price, but obviously the team has not gotten there yet. Bell, of course, was hit with the franchise tag for the second consecutive season earlier this month, and while he will receive a healthy $14.544MM if he plays out the 2018 campaign under the tag, he is still looking for long-term security at a rate that the Steelers do not seem to be willing to pay.

Nonetheless, both Fowler and Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com (Twitter link) believe it is unlikely that the Steelers rescind Bell’s franchise tag. If they did, it could leave Bell in a tough position, as many teams have already spent their free agent budget, and even those that have not done so would probably be just as unwilling as the Steelers to satisfy Bell’s contract demands. Therefore, Bell may have to simply sign the franchise tender at some point prior to the start of the season. He has indicated previously that he will not attend training camp if he does not get a multi-year deal to his liking, even though his early-season performance in 2017 was not up to his usual standards, perhaps because he also skipped last year’s training camp.

Colbert’s comments that the team cannot divert its attention from free agency right now may raise some eyebrows given the Steelers’ small amount of cap room, but Kaboly tweets that Pittsburgh may not be done in free agency if a player it likes unexpectedly becomes available.

The Steelers also have several other in-house matters to resolve. Colbert said that the team could still extend Ben Roethlisberger‘s contract this offseason, which was mentioned as a possibility last month (Twitter link via Fowler). Big Ben’s current deal keeps him under club control through 2019.

Also, Kaboly tweets that no decision has been made with respect to Bud Dupree‘s fifth-year option, which must be exercised by May 3, but Fowler tweets that Colbert seems open to exercising it.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Players Criticize Harrison’s Exit

Late last week the Steelers made the surprising decision to cut linebacker James Harrison. The veteran went unclaimed but was quickly signed by AFC rival New England. He then let it be known he was unhappy about his playing time and asked for his release several times. James Harrison (vertical)

His Steelers teammates hit back at Harrison on Wednesday, saying it was exactly what he wanted to happen and that he went out of his way to try to get released, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

“Don’t make it look like it’s the team’s fault,” Maurkice Pouncey said. “You think the team and the organization wanted to get rid of James Harrison? Come on, now. If I wanted out, I wouldn’t let the team take the blame for it.”

According to Fowler’s source, Harrison would sleep during position meetings and snore loudly while linebacker’s coach, and Harrison’s former teammate, Joey Porter tried to teach. Another source said Harrison told teammates he was trying to get traded and would leave the facility or stadium at random times or during games when he was inactive.

With the Patriots and Steelers possibly set to meet in the AFC playoffs, some wondered if Harrison would share information with his new team. Linebacker Bud Dupree doesn’t think he will, saying, “I don’t know how many secrets about the playbook Harrison could give to [the Patriots] because I never saw him in meetings.”

Pouncey went as far to say that Harrison, who starred in Super Bowl XLIII vs. the Cardinals, “erased his own legacy” with the departure.

Though surprising to Steelers fans, the move obviously was one that was welcomed and expected by many within the organization. To say there is bad blood here would be putting it lightly.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Pats, Dupree

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill believes the team’s 2017 offense will be the best he has ever played with, and James Walker of ESPN.com agrees with him. On paper, Miami does boast a great deal of talent at the skill positions, but as Walker observes, the Dolphins still have some depth problems. Jay Ajayi was a revelation in 2016, but what happens if he should go down with an injury, or if he needs to be spelled from time to time as the season progresses? Could Kenyan Drake or Damien Williams step up? And can Leonte Carroo be counted on to complement Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker, or even carry the load if one of those players should get hurt? Will Mike Pouncey stay healthy for a full season. Of course, every team can ask itself similar questions, but for the Dolphins’ offense to take a step forward this year, it will need to stay healthy or else get contributions from unlikely sources.

Now for more from the AFC:

  • As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes, the Patriots don’t have many major position battles, but one to keep an eye on is at backup tight end. Of course, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen are entrenched in the top spots, but given Gronk’s health issues, the No. 3 TE could end up playing a significant role. As it currently stands, Matt Lengel and James O’Shaughnessy will compete with UDFAs Jacob Hollister and Sam Cotton for the job.
  • Steelers LB Bud Dupree was drafted with the thought that he could become the next great Pittsburgh pass rusher, and given the way he performed down the stretch in 2016, the team believes the third-year pro is ready to make the leap. As Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out, Dupree did not start his first game in 2016 until Week 14 — he began the year on injured reserve and was slowly eased back into action — but in that Week 14 matchup, Dupree played all but one snap and racked up 2.5 sacks (he ended the regular season with 4.5 sacks). He also recorded a half-sack in the playoffs while playing all but three snaps, so he appears primed for a breakout in 2017.
  • The Browns finished 1-15 last season, and most think they will be lucky to get to six or seven wins in 2017, but Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com says head coach Hue Jackson is not on a short leash. The team’s front office realizes it was again looking at a multi-year overhaul when it hired Jackson, and Jackson will get a chance to see it through (assuming he wants to, of course).
  • Some are wondering why Chad Henne is still on the Jaguars roster even though he does not have a pass attempt since 2014, but Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union has a succinct answer. O’Halloran says, “Henne has experience in many offenses. He has experience working with new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. And he has accepted being a sounding board for Blake Bortles. That’s why [he] is here.” Of course, as we heard last month, second-year player Brandon Allen could unseat Henne with an impressive preseason.

Steelers Place Wheaton On IR, Activate Dupree

The Steelers exchanged would-be key members of their 2016 team from IR in advance of their Week 11 game against the Browns, and the moves could bring to an end Markus Wheaton‘s time with the team.

Pittsburgh placed the fourth-year wide receiver on IR, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (on Twitter). This will end Wheaton’s season because the team is bringing Bud Dupree off its IR list, making the second-year linebacker the franchise’s IR-boomerang player and rendering all other performers on IR finished for the year.

Wheaton hopes to avoid surgery, but ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that’s a possibility for the 25-year-old pass-catcher.

The Steelers also moved Cameron Heyward to IR as expected after the stalwart defensive end tore a pectoral muscle.

For Wheaton, this brings about an unfortunate end to his contract year, with the wideout who appeared set to be Ben Roethlisberger‘s No. 2 target in a high-octane offense catching just four passes and playing in only three games this season. A shoulder injury ended up shelving the longtime contributor, who missed six games as a result of the malady. Wheaton averaged 17.0 yards per catch last season in an improved campaign that saw him carve out a key role for the Steelers, scoring a career-best five touchdowns and recording 749 air yards.

A former third-round pick, Wheaton will be a free agent, and the Steelers already house Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and have Martavis Bryant under contract, although his status is murky at best due to the season-long suspension he’s serving.

Dupree has missed the season to this point with a groin injury. He played in all 16 regular-season games for the team last season and started five. Although the 2015 first-round pick was inconsistent as a rookie, the Kentucky product not having an entire season wiped away will help his development for a struggling Steelers defense.

The 23-year-old outside linebacker made 26 tackles and four sacks last season. He’ll return to a Steelers defense still flush with first-round linebackers, with the others — Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier — all starting for the 4-5 team, one that ranks 25th in total defense through 10 weeks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Designate Bud Dupree To Return

It appeared Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree‘s season was over before it began when the team placed him on injured reserve Sept. 4. Fortunately, Dupree’s recovery from core muscle tear surgery went so well that the Steelers designated him to return from IR on Wednesday, per Ralph N. Pauk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The club now has a 21-day window to activate Dupree, who is aiming to make his 2016 debut Nov. 20 in Cleveland.

Bud Dupree

In Dupree, Pittsburgh will welcome back its 2015 first-round pick, a player who amassed 26 tackles and four sacks in 16 games (five starts) as a rookie. The former Kentucky standout’s presence should aid a defense that ranks a below-average 19th in both DVOA and yardage allowed. Pittsburgh has also struggled getting to the quarterback, having amassed an NFL-worst 11 sacks to go with 48 hurries (18th), which has contributed to its underwhelming 4-4 record. During their three-game losing streak, the Steelers have taken down opposing passers a mere three times. Each of those sacks came in their 21-14 loss to AFC North rival Baltimore last Sunday.

Given that teams can only bring one player off IR, Dupree’s designation means the 2016 season has officially ended for two other Pittsburgh notables – offensive tackle Ryan Harris and cornerback Senquez Golson – as Paulk notes. Harris and Golson landed on IR prior to Week 5.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Sunday NFL Transactions: AFC North

Listed below are the Sunday roster moves for the four AFC North teams. Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline yesterday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters, claiming players off waivers or signing guys who clear waivers. Those transactions for the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Steelers are noted below.

Additionally, as of 12:00pm CT today, teams can begin constructing their 10-man practice squads. You can check out our glossary entry on practice squads to brush up on those changes, as well as all the other guidelines that govern the 10-man units, whose players practice with the team but aren’t eligible to suit up on Sundays.

Here are Sunday’s AFC North transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day. All links go to Twitter unless otherwise noted:

Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers Place Bud Dupree On IR

3:27pm: Dupree had an operation to repair a core muscle tear, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who adds that Dupree is a candidate to return off IR later this year.

3:08pm: The Steelers announced that they’ve placed linebacker Bud Dupree on injured reserve, meaning he won’t play during the 2016 season. In his stead, the club has signed linebacker Steven Johnson.Bud Dupree (Vertical)

Dupree, 23, was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in last year’s draft. In his rookie campaign, Dupree played on about half of the club’s defensive snaps, splitting time at outside linebacker with James Harrison, Arthur Moats, and Jarvis Jones. He appeared in all 16 games, starting five, and picked up 17 tackles and four sacks. A groin injury, however, will ensure that Dupree doesn’t see the field again until 2017.

Johnson, meanwhile, was signed by the Steelers over the offseason, but was released this weekend as part of final cutdowns. He’s spent time with the Broncos and Titans in four NFL seasons, appearing in 57 games during that time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.