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For the Steelers and Bud Dupree, it was probably never meant to be

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A long-term deal between the Steelers and Bud Dupree was probably never all that realistic. But that’s okay.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The deadline for the Steelers to reach a long-term deal with sixth-year outside linebacker (or defensive end?) Bud Dupree came and went on Wednesday without a new contract being agreed upon.

Who was surprised by this? If I were a betting man, I’d say you probably do not have your hand up as you’re reading this article.

Dupree will now play the 2020 campaign on the $15.8 million (or maybe $17.8 million?) franchise tag Pittsburgh placed on him back in the spring. I know this, because he signed it in April. What does this all mean? It means Dupree will almost surely be getting ready to start training camp with another team next July, just months after signing a multi-year deal, complete with lots of guaranteed money.

And that will be a nice way for his career with the Steelers to come to an end. Former first-round pick struggles to reach his potential for his first four years. The switch is finally flipped in Year 5, it stays on in Year 6, and he walks off into the sunset with zero regrets.

I doubt the Steelers would have many regrets, either. Actually, they probably would. After all, who wouldn’t regret not being able to keep one of the premier pass-rushers in all the land? That’s right, I said premier pass-rusher, a label Dupree will surely earn by next spring if he does have the kind of 2020 that lands him a rich, long-term deal.

But what can you do? How much money do you think T.J. Watt will command on his second contract? I can assure you it will be more expensive than Dupree’s—and Dupree’s figures to be pretty damn expensive.

You can’t let Watt get anywhere near free-agency, and he’s certainly not the kind of generational talent you want to be using franchise tags on. You want him happy. You want him content. You want him to be here long enough to be able to unofficially retire his No. 90 jersey when he officially calls it a career.

You can’t spend that kind of money—this is just a guess on my part, but I’m thinking it would take at least a combined $35 million in annual salary to keep both Watt and Dupree around—on one position.

It’s not fiscally responsible, not when you’re always up against the cap, and you have other players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick that will be wanting paid, too.

No, the Steelers were never going to be able to afford Dupree, but it is a testament to his drive and determination that he was able to finally reach his potential and turn himself into a coveted free agent that you would hate to see go. Many people think it was as simple as flipping a switch for Dupree in his contract year, that he only performed the way he did in 2019 because he wanted the big payday.

If that were the case, why wouldn’t he have averaged 11.5 sacks over his first four years? You know how much more money he could have commanded?

No, 2019, in my opinion, was the result of years of hard work finally paying off. It was the result of better coaching, thanks to defensive coordinator Keith Butler assuming his old role after the departure of linebackers coach Joey Porter. Unfortunately, not every first-round pick can be a star fresh out of the box.

Some players—even guys with first-round pedigrees—simply need more time in the oven.

The good news for the Steelers and Dupree is their relationship isn’t quite over. They can still go out on the highest of notes. They can still close out their story with a final Super chapter.

If that were to happen, both parties would walk away richer and better off than they were when they first partnered up.