It might be the single highest priority for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2020 off-season. 2015 first-round draft pick Bud Dupree had a breakout year in 2019 and is now scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Even head coach Mike Tomlin admitted in his final press conference of the season that keeping Dupree is a high priority for the Steelers.
But can the two sides reach a deal? And if they can’t, are the Steelers prepared to use their other options in order to retain Dupree for 2020?
Some have speculated that the Steelers would be willing to use the franchise tag on Dupree for the 2020 season in hopes of signing him to a long-term deal. The only issue is if the Steelers can afford to pay Dupree the high one-year salary which will really hurt the salary cap situation for next season. It’s not beyond the realm of possibilities as the Steelers are bound to make other moves in order to save some cap space. But there is one more issue which will need clarification before the Steelers are ready to use the tag on Dupree.
It all comes down to this…
What position is Bud Dupree classified when it comes to the franchise tag?
The first thought would be Dupree is listed as an outside linebacker so that would be which tag number he would be associated with. But according to the NFL’s collective-bargaining agreement, there is no distinction between the different linebacking positions. The positions used on defense are the following:
At first look, it might not seem to be a big deal as to what position Dupree is classified. But the truth is, it’s a difference of just over $3 million for a season according to overthecap.com. If Dupree were deemed a linebacker, the franchise tag amount is an estimated $16.266 million in 2020 while a defensive end would bring $19.316 million with the franchise tag.
The Steelers have worked how they classify a player in their 3-4 defense to their advantage in the past. In fact, Cameron Heyward struggled to make the Pro Bowl being listed as a defensive end as he was going up against the likes of players such as J.J. Watt. It was hard to have equivalent statistics for Hayward as a defensive end as he was not asked to do the same thing as a defensive end by rushing off the edge. Once the Steelers classified Heyward as a defensive tackle, which is the more comparable position based on what Heyward is asked to do in the Steelers’ scheme, he has been awarded with both Pro Bowl and All Pro honors.
So does Bud Dupree have a legitimate argument that he should be classified as a defensive end rather than a linebacker? A case could be made either way, so here are the arguments for both sides:
He’s a Linebacker
It’s very simple. He’s listed as an outside linebacker for the Steelers 3-4 defense. He played all of his snaps in 2019 from a standing two-point position rather than as a down lineman as many defensive ends do in a 4-3. Also, his counterpart T.J. Watt was just elected to the Pro Bowl as a linebacker. If the NFL classifies Watt as a linebacker and Dupree plays the same position on the other side, he must be a linebacker as well.
He’s a Defensive End
Bottom line, Dupree is an edge rusher. And in a 4-3 defense, edge rushers are called defense ends. Linebackers generally rush the passer mainly in a blitz. Dupree plays on the line of scrimmage, and not off the line of scrimmage like a 4-3 linebacker. How the team classifies Dupree is relative as some NFL sites such as Pro Football Reference list Dupree as a defensive end.
So is Dupree a linebacker or defensive end? Even though the Steelers play a 3-4 base defense, I have to admit it is a strong argument that what Dupree is asked to do and his function on the team better aligns with a 4-3 defensive end rather than a linebacker. As much as I would like to save the money in order to franchise Dupree, it feels too much like the right thing to do is to say he is a defensive end because he is an edge rusher.
Hopefully classifying Bud Dupree’s exact position in order to determine the franchise tag will not come into play. The ultimate goal would be for the Steelers to sign Dupree to a multi-year deal where money can be deferred over extensive time. But if the Steelers have to use the tag in order to extend negotiations with Dupree, it could turn into a situation which is too good for Dupree to pass on a one year deal at that price.
So what does BTSC think? Make sure to give your answer in the poll below.
What position should Bud Dupree be considered when it comes to the franchise tag?
This poll is closed
Linebacker. It’s what the Steelers say he is based on their defense.
Defensive End. He’s an edge rusher, so by the NFL’s standard he fits better into that classification.