Bud Dupree

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.

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.