Late Friday night, news broke that Steelers’ pass-rusher Bud Dupree had filed a grievance with the NFL, hoping that his franchise tag in 2020 would be paid to him as a defensive end rather than a linebacker. Defensive ends make $2 million more than linebackers when it comes to the franchise tag system, which is most likely what prompted Dupree to file his grievance.
Ian Rapoport, who reported the news of Dupree’s grievance, also noted that “the sides are not close on a [long-term] deal” in his tweet.
That report might have confirmed that 2020 would be the end of Dupree’s stay in Pittsburgh. He and the team only have until July 15th to get a deal done, and him asking for more money might have shown he has has resigned himself to playing on the tag in 2020. Regardless, there was never much of an expectation Dupree would have been able to get a long-term deal with team in the first place, so the news wasn’t much of a surprise.
While the general reaction to Rapoport’s tweet was similar to the one above, there were many who were frustrated Dupree was asking for more money, not that he might not be a Steeler in 2021. And, while it’s understandable to be disgusted by millionaire NFL stars and billionaire NFL owners squabbling over large amounts of money in a time of economic hardship, it’s hard to find any fault in what Dupree did.
Dupree wasn’t being petty when he filed his grievance, he actually has a great argument to be paid as an defensive end.
Bud Dupree and his teammate T.J. Watt essentially play defensive end in the Steelers’ defense, even though they are both listed as outside linebackers. They rarely dropped into coverage in 2019, and spent most of their time rushing the passer and setting the edge.
Brooke Pryor of ESPN noted that Dupree led the Steelers in EDGE snaps in 2019, spending 89% of his snaps from that position.
The Steelers’ hybrid look has the team playing with a 2-4 front quite often, which is typically made up of two defensive tackles in the middle and two pass-rushing outside linebackers on the edge. In other words, it’s a hybrid 4-3 defense where both Watt and Dupree play defensive end. The only difference is it’s described using 3-4 defense terminology, in which both Watt and Dupree would play outside linebacker.
The Steelers themselves have changed up their defensive terminology, listing Cameron Heyward, their star defensive end, as a defensive tackle. Heyward is technically a 3-4 defensive end, but due to the Steelers’ new defensive look, he’s been playing more as a 4-3 defensive tackle.
In other words, the definition of defensive end is what Dupree is challenging with his grievance. In each defensive scheme it can mean something different. When it comes to franchise tags, ‘defensive end’ seems to be defined as a pass-rusher.
Pass-rusher is one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable position on a defense, and it’s evidenced by how the defensive end franchise tag is worth $2 million more than the linebacker tag. There’s an argument on whether or not Dupree’s play is worthy of $17 million in a year (the amount of a defensive end franchise tag), but it has nothing to do with whether or not Dupree is entitled to it like he claims he is.
Also, when a pass-rushing outside linebacker like T.J. Watt or Bud Dupree eventually gets a long-term contract, how will they get paid? Like a defensive end.
It’s always easy to tell someone else what to do with their money and Dupree has felt that, being vilified by some fans and members of the media for filing his grievance. However, Dupree has been professional throughout the entire process, and hasn’t publicly complained about his pay, threatened a holdout, or even written passive-aggressive raps about it like a certain former franchise-tagged Steeler. He’s gone through all of the right avenues when it comes to getting his franchise tag upgraded as well, and has a legitimate case to be reviewed. Simply put, Dupree found a no-risk way to possibly make some more money which he might actually have the right to and most people in his situation would probably do the same.
Dupree isn't playing the system any more than the Steelers did when they first placed the tag on him.
He isn't alone in his line of thinking, either. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL in sacks in 2019, found himself in a similar position as a pass-rusher placed under the linebacker franchise tag in 2019. Barrett had filed a grievance a few hours before Dupree. Both players have a valid complaint regarding how they’ve been classified and deserve to be heard out.
This article isn't to say that Dupree did anything right. If he does play under the defensive end franchise tag in 2019 it could hurt the Steelers’ delicate salary cap situation and a player who is going to get $15 million this season wanting another $2 million seems to be a very insignificant problem.
But he didn't do anything wrong, either.