In the least suspenseful outcome since the last time Hank Moody was encountered by a beautiful woman at the supermarket, it was reported earlier this month that the Steelers intend to place the franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree at the start of the NFL’s new calendar year.
Much like in the old show Californication, the “Will they?” or “Won’t they?” part of the equation involving Dupree’s impending free agency and the Steelers decision was cute, but I think, in the end, we all knew how this would turn out.
Yes, $16 million (the reported price for such a maneuver) is a hefty tag. And, yes, keeping Dupree would use up a ton of cap space for 2020. However, the Steelers couldn’t be more in “win-now” mode if these were the actual last days of existence, as opposed to just feeling that way thanks to the lack of readily available toilet paper. This is what happens when you have a 38-year old quarterback working to comeback from major elbow surgery. Actually, this should be the mindset of any team with a late-30s quarterback who is of the franchise variety—elbow surgery or no elbow surgery.
At last look, Ben Roethlisberger was a world-class quarterback. Will he still be in 2020? For that matter, will he make it all the way back from his elbow surgery so we can find out?
With their decision to not cut ties with the big guy—despite the cries from so many from around the football world to do so—the Steelers have taken a leap of faith that Roethlisberger will again be a force to be reckoned with next season.
As for Dupree, with 11.5 sacks, he was certainly that for a Steelers defense that wreaked havoc on many, many levels in 2019.
After so many years of being called a bust (a label that didn’t fit if my definition of bust is the right one), 2019 was clearly a breakthrough season for Dupree. I’d say Dupree represented a microcosm of Pittsburgh’s defense, because after so many years of struggling just to break even, Keith Butler’s unit dominated in so many important categories a season ago—including total yards (fifth) and takeaways (first).
Dupree was very-much a big part of that. No, he wasn’t the lead singer (to steal a phrase from Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu), that would have been T.J. Watt, but he was still a huge part of what made this revitalized defense work.
And that’s why he has to stick around for at least 2020. That’s why the Steelers needed to take yet another leap of faith and tag him for 2020.
This particular leap of faith has many layers. For starters, will Dupree be able to duplicate what he did a year ago? With Anthony Chickillo as the primary backup (as of this writing) and Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper lacking in the experience department, it’s obviously in the Steelers’ best interests to find out.
Also, will the proposed new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) be approved by the majority of players? If it is—and it’s expected to pass (again, as of this writing)—that changes things dramatically. This would open up the possibility of restructuring the contracts of several players, which would lighten the burden on the 2020 salary cap.
Another layer of this leap of faith is the possibility of working out a long-term deal with Dupree. This would obviously allow the Steelers to prorate whatever guaranteed money Dupree would receive over the length of the deal, thus lessening the burden on the 2020 salary cap.
There’s also the layer that could include no new deal between the owners and players, which would really constrain the Steelers from a salary cap perspective in 2020. If that were to become a reality, Pittsburgh would likely then be forced to make many tough decisions about other veterans just to make room for Dupree.
You might be of the mindset that there are cheaper alternatives in free agency. Maybe, but cheaper almost always means lower quality. Would it really be worth it to pay a lesser talent half the money you’d have to pay Dupree if that lesser talent doesn’t come close to matching Dupree’s productivity?
I certainly don’t believe so.
There is also the theory that Pittsburgh could find Dupree’s replacement in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Maybe, but that would be a leap that would require much, much more faith.
No, bringing Dupree back for 2020—even had a hefty price—gives the Steelers the best shot at being a dominant team, provided, of course, Big Ben comes all the way back.
And that’s why having faith in Bud Dupree was the leap the Steelers had to take.