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Bud Dupree and the Pittsburgh Steelers still need each other

URFA Bud Dupree and the Pittsburgh Steelers still have need of one another.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As I feel certain that unrestricted free agent Alvin "Bud" Dupree Jr. would attest, ACL injuries suck. That statement holds true for all knee injuries actually, but more so for ACL injuries in particular. They happen out of nowhere without warning, therefore they are impossible to predict or avoid. Contact is not required on many occasions. Everyone of us who have experienced a torn ACL cringe whenever we witness another athlete fall victim to the dreaded scourge, and we can sympathize for their long the frequently painful road to recovery. Physical rehabilitation is no walk in the park, but the mental aspect is the toughest hurdle to overcome.

Dupree was enjoying his second Pro Bowl worthy season, he should have been selected the previous season but was snubbed big time, when he was lost for the season due to the injury late in the Steelers home victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He has evolved into a premier edge defender with a well rounded game. He earned top five pay at his position last season after being franchise tagged by the Steelers, and was on schedule for the type of financial security and long-term stability that most NFL players can only dream of. Then the ACL injury threw a monkey wrench into his best laid plans.

The dream can still be the reality, but he would be wise to proceed with caution. The rehabilitation process is both long and grueling, and should never be rushed when your future success; both athletically and financially, depend on a full recovery. Therefore, if I was advising Bud Dupree and his agent, I would highly recommend that Dupree and the Steelers try to work out a mutually beneficial one year contract prior to free agency. Let me try to explain the logic behind that statement.

Trust me when I say this, I only want what is best for Bud Dupree and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The toughest part of the rehabilitation process from ACL surgery, and getting back to your pre-injury form, is the mental aspect. Every athlete must learn to trust that appendage again, because the slightest tweak or sense of instability during one's earnest journey to full recovery can trigger mental anxiety. This inevitable dilemma results in a tendency to be tentative, far more calculating in one's movements than instinctual.

The speed of the NFL game is impossible to duplicate in a rehab or practice setting. Players must quickly process information accurately as it pertains to their responsibilities on every play. This has to become almost second nature, routine if you will, for the player to perform up to their potential within the scheme. It becomes instinctual over time after repetition. Dupree has always been more physical than cerebral, more freakish athleticism than skilled tactician. Dupree has that comfort level in Pittsburgh. It took him years to achieve it, but in doing so he became the Pro Bowl caliber player he is today.

Dupree is familiar with the Steelers physicians and trainers on staff at the facilities. He would be surrounded and supported by teammates and familiar faces. That familiarity creates a comfort level that shouldn't be overlooked or underappreciated in the rehabilitation process. Less outside distractions and menial decisions means more time to focus on the business at hand.

No matter how successful the rehab, Dupree will miss a portion of next season and will not be back to 100% till the following season. This is just the reality of ACL injuries. Any team with the available cap space and the need to pay Dupree top dollar will more than likely expect him to be some sort of pass rushing savior for their defense. No team is going to throw big bucks at a player with Dupree's pedigree and let him settle in as a role player off the bench while he learns the system and adjust to his new surroundings and responsibilities, much less patiently wait as he learns to trust his surgically repaired knee fully once again. If he thinks the pressure from his new comrades and coaches is bad, wait until he gets a load of the unrealistic expectations from the overzealous fanbase that had been praying vehemently for his arrival.

The rehabilitation process from a ACL surgery is tough enough without adding all the additional pressure and distractions I mentioned above. If the Steelers and Dupree can agree to an feasible and mutually beneficial one year contract, I believe that a return engagement to the Steel City might be just what the doctor ordered for the talented young man and his surgically repaired knee. In Pittsburgh he can focus on his rehab; not learning a new system, teammates, and community. He can play more instinctively as he slowly integrates himself back into the fray as the strength and stability returns to his knee. This scenario definitely wasn't part of his original plan, but it may just be the best choice for his long term health and financial well being.