When the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up the fifth-year option of defensive end Bud Dupree, some fans were surprised, and even disappointed at the idea of investing $9.23 million into a player with a career-high of six sacks in a single season.
However, the Steelers did not stress the decision and did not budge in their stance that it was a no-brainer to keep the former first-round pick for his fifth NFL season. Team president Art Rooney II was quick to give him a vote of confidence heading into the offseason.
“Bud had some good games and some other games that were probably not what you would want,” Rooney noted in his end-of-season review. “But I think there was some progress this year, so we’re looking for some progress from him again next year.”
The fact of the matter is that the NFL is starving for pass rushers, and there just are not many people in this world who stand around 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-5, weigh between 255 and 270 pounds, and have the speed, strength, and athleticism to get off of the football, bend the edge and win hand fights with offensive lineman.
Dupree has not been great, but you do not have to be a great pass rusher to get paid in the NFL. Dupree suffered a hernia in the 2016 offseason, a shoulder injury in the 2017 offseason, and switched sides in the 2018 offseason. Entering 2019, there is a reason for the Steelers and Dupree to feel the best season is yet to come.
With that in mind, would the Steelers be smart to bet on Dupree before the season and extend him at a cheaper price before a strong season? What should Dupree look forward to when he enters the free agent market, and what kind of offer would the Steelers offer Dupree before the start of the season?
MOST COMPARABLE PLAYERS
When looking at this most recent offseason, some notable names come into mind. Five players that Dupree will look most specifically to are Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Nick Perry, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith.
Dupree knows Za’Darius quite well, they were teammates at Kentucky. Dupree was more productive and athletic in college, which caused him to go higher while Smith dropped to round four. However, without the fifth-year option of a first-round pick, Smith hit free agency a year earlier. He signed a deal this past offseason with the Packers, as did Preston Smtih, who was a second-round pick in the same draft as Dupree.
These two will be great comparison points as they came from the same draft class, but Dupree also will carry the upside and athletic background of a first round pick. Dee Ford was the 23rd pick in the first round, while Dupree went 22nd the following year. Clowney went first overall, but when looking at the athletic upside, and injury questions on both sides, Dupree can be compared to Clowney. Perry was the 28th pick in the first round and was drafted in 2012, but can be a good athletic comparison as well.
|Jadeveon Clowney||Bud Dupree||Nick Perry|
|Height||6′ 5¼”||6′ 4″||6′ 3″|
|Weight||266 lbs||269 lbs||271 lbs|
|40 Yard Dash||4.53s||4.56s||4.64s|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.43s||4.47s*||4s|
The Smith’s come from Dupree’s draft class, while Clowney and Ford are former first rounders a year prior. All four saw contract activity just last year while Perry gives us a more historical comparison to go off of.
When looking into these five players in comparison to Dupree, the $9.23 million fifth-year option seems more and more understandable. These statistical comparisons looked specifically at the first four seasons of their careers. What is interesting to note is that Ford and Clowney had their best season on their fifth-year option. This was not included, as Dupree has not had a chance to match.
Preston Smith has been the healthiest, and therefore the most successful of the group through four seasons. The group gets even closer when looking at the start to their careers on a game by game basis.
Dupree has seen these numbers. He knows where he stands. He knows that he can use both Smith’s as a base. He can point to Ford and Clowney when claiming a year five breakout and can point to Perry as a player that had the team that drafted him to remain loyal and see his best play come after his rookie deal. So, what kind of deal could be on the table for Dupree?
Considering these names were the closest to Dupree entering the market, they will be a great guide for what Dupree is expected to get.
|Player||GTD $||Years Under Contract||Yearly Avg Salary|
Za’Darius Smith signed a four-year deal worth up to $66 million. Preston Smith saw $62 million on four years. Dupree has more sacks in four fewer games played than Za’Darius and is right on track with Preston on a per game basis. Dupree also comes in with more athleticism and more draft pedigree. Considering the cap will only rise, Dupree could look at a neighborhood of $16-million per year on an average annual salary.
Clowney was injured early into his career but was more productive than Dupree on a per-game basis. However, the Houston Texans did not trust his health and let Clowney play on his fifth-year option. Clowney put up nine sacks for the second straight season, proving that his fourth season was not a fluke, and his first three seasons were much more injury anomalies.
Still, the Texans have yet to bet on the health of Clowney long term. Yes, they gave him the franchise tag. However, you can see it comes in at a similar price to both Smith’s with none of the long-term commitment. Dupree enters year five hoping to show injuries were the issue for his early-season struggles, but would a productive year put the Steelers in a situation similar to the Texans with Clowney?
Ford was less productive than Dupree through three seasons, but, put up 13 sacks in year five. Still, the Chiefs were not buying it. They were put in a spot where they had to franchise Ford but immediately moved on from him for a second round pick. The 49ers believed in the fifth-year of Ford and loaded him with guaranteed money.
In the case of Perry, his first four seasons were so rough that the Packers declined his fifth-year option. After seeing no market, the team brought him back cheaper than the option, but after an 11 sack campaign, the Packers were put in a spot where they had to give Perry a $60-million deal with $18.5 million in guarantees.
Perry put up seven sacks in the first year of his deal. The second year he put up one sack and got hurt. In his third year, the Packers will eat $11 million of dead-cap for Perry to play somewhere else so that they can upgrade to the Smith’s we have talked about. He is still currently a free agent.
A CONTRACT FOR DUPREE
While many see a $9 million cap hit for Dupree as an overpay, based on his market value, Dupree is expected to get more money next season. The Steelers have to walk a fine line that has not worked well in the long term for any of the examples shown. If the Steelers wait to extend Dupree, a breakout means franchise tag money or multiple years of guaranteed money. If they give Dupree a market-value extension, they could see a Perry turn and get one healthy season and a bunch of dead cap space.
When looking at an extension, Dupree has a very good chance to check in averaging over $16 million per year. The question will be the guaranteed money. Most of the deals above give the team a chance to get out of the deal without too many issues after a year or two. If the Steelers can get Dupree for a deal in the range of Preston Smith with similar guarantees, it might be worth it.
Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.
Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?
The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.
That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.
Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.
The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.
Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.
He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”
Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.
Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit
The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.
Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.
Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.
The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.
The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.
The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.