Alvin “Bud” Dupree has decided to have a breakout season at the worst possible time. After being ineffective for the first 4 years of his career, Dupree is suddenly a bit of a star in year no. 5, the one year the Steelers can’t really make a run. He is outstanding defending the run, and is beginning to rush the passer like we’ve never seen before. As you may have heard, his 7.0 sacks (and 3 forced fumbles) this season is his new career high–and we’re just over halfway through the season. Dupree’s contract is expiring and EDGE players always demand a ton of money So what the heck do we do with him?
On the free market, Bud Dupree could command $16+ million APOY, which is difficult for the Steelers at this point. The team needs to give stars JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.J. Watt long-term deals, and they will be very expensive. It’s hard to try and figure out exactly how much they will go for, specifically with how unproductive JuJu has been this season. The Steelers undoubtedly still look at him as a No. 1 receiver, but should he be the highest paid WR in the NFL? The answer to that question might just define the Steelers’ offseason. In the end, I expect him to go for about 17.5+ million APOY, which ranks with the upper echelon of WRs, but not the highest in the NFL. Watt could get a similar average, around 19+ million APOY, as a top EDGE player who won’t necessarily get what Khalil Mack or Von Miller gets. Considering that, as well as smaller, annual extensions (Mike Hilton, B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, Zach Banner, Nick Vannett), and a small splash in free agency, it is clear to see how the Steelers may be worried about overspending. James Conner and Cameron Sutton may demand new contracts as well, and decisions regarding those two will be very interesting. What remains is Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave. So should the Steelers re-sign both, one of the two, or neither?
There is one alternative. A tag/sign-and-trade.
If the Steelers tag Dupree, his contract will jump to about 16 million+ for the 2020 season, which might be too much for the Steelers to keep on their roster, but not an absurd amount for the open market, where Za’Darius Smith received 16.5 million despite limited prior production. The next question is who would take him.
How about the Jets?. While James Conner, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Samuels have been okay, many Steeler fans would love to see Le’Veon Bell back in the black and gold. Conner is seemingly always hurt, and Samuels is unexciting. Don’t let the contract negotiations of a couple years ago ruin your image of Bell. He’s a great player, outstanding leader, and could be the final offensive weapon the Steelers need to go on a run. The Jets, with their cap space and rebuild process, will have to eat up some of the contract for the trade to go through. It’s easy to say: “Ben Reothlisberger has had an offense with Lev Bell (and Antonio Brown) and was unable to reach a Super Bowl.” But he also hasn’t had a defense like this in years. Everytime Ben has made a Super Bowl run, it has been on the back of the defense, not the offense. This might make Ben look dependent on his defense, but quite the opposite is actually true. Roethlisberger can create offense for himself, even with lesser talent around him, but he simply has no control on the defense. Adding Lev Bell to young talent like James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, James Washington, JuJu, and Diontae Johnson is all the Steelers need to make possible get a 7th Lombardi. Address EDGE, TE in Draft/Free Agency and suddenly this roster has very few holes.
But re-signing him is still an option. Letting him go would mean an easy 3rd round compensatory pick, but that looks like the 3rd best option. Keeping the Watt/Dupree duo is a key to what has become one of the 5 best defenses in the NFL. I could see the Steelers re-signing Dupree for around 13-15 million APOY, allowing them to simply and easily put this dilemma to rest. We just have to hope he will give Pittsburgh a bit of a discount.