Two years ago, the Steelers were deciding whether or not to pick up Bud Dupree's fifth-year option. Pittsburgh ultimately did, and was rewarded with Dupree's best season to date. Dupree's success in 2019 resulted in the Steelers franchise tagging him in 2020. He was on his way to another breakout year before a torn ACL injury prematurely ended Dupree's 2020 season.
Dupree's value to the Steelers was on full display during his absence. The Steelers were 11-0 with Dupree in the starting lineup in 2020. They went 1-5 without him, including a wild card loss to the Cleveland Browns. That wasn't lost on the Steelers' brass, who have publicly expressed their desire to try to re-sign Dupree this offseason.
Dupree's market value is currently estimated at four years and $18.2 million per season, according to Spotrac. This year's reduced salary cap might impact Dupree's ability to hit that mark, however, which might lead to him signing a one-year "prove it" contract instead of a long-term contract. Regardless, Dupree should have a robust market, as there are several teams looking to bolster their pass rush via free agency.
Below are the top-five teams that we consider to be the most likely landing spots for Dupree. We've also included a scouting report and recent storylines regarding Dupree's free agency.
Top landing spots
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has specifically mentioned Dupree -- unlike some of their other free agents -- as a player they would try to re-sign this offseason. Pittsburgh's chances at keeping Dupree come down to his market value. If he can get anywhere near his estimated market value elsewhere, Dupree has likely played his final down in Pittsburgh. But if his offers prove underwhelming, Dupree could very well sign a one-year or multiyear deal with the Steelers. Money aside, Dupree has proven to be a key part of the Steelers' defense. Furthermore, he enjoys playing alongside T.J. Watt, as the two have become one of the best outside linebacker duos in the NFL.
- Atlanta Falcons: A Georgia native, Dupree's home state team is in dire need of a pass rusher. The Falcons have recently struck out in their quest for a premier pass rusher. Atlanta finally pulled the plug on former first-round pick Takk McKinley last season. Dante Fowler, who signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Falcons last offseason, vastly underperformed during his first season in Atlanta. Dupree would be a significant upgrade for a defense that tallied just 29 sacks in 2020.
- Carolina Panthers: Last spring, the Panthers became the first team to spend each of their seven draft picks on defense. Many of Carolina's young defenders showed promise, especially defensive end Brian Burns, who recorded a team high nine sacks and three forced fumbles. That being said, the Panthers failed to reach 30 team sacks, as only six players tallied two or more sacks last season. Dupree would give the Panthers' defense a much-needed pass rusher and a veteran presence.
- Indianapolis Colts: Justin Houston, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Denico Autry, three players who accounted for about 44% of the Colts' sack total in 2020, are slated to become free agents. Dupree would likely benefit by playing alongside defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and inside linebacker Darius Leonard. An All-Pro last season, Buckner led the Colts in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (10). Also an All-Pro last season, Leonard tallied 132 tackles and three forced fumbles for the Colts, who recently made a splash the offseason with the acquisition of Carson Wentz.
- Tennessee Titans: Like Atlanta, Tennessee has whiffed in recent years on free agent pass rushers. Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley failed to record a single sack for the Titans in 2020, as Tennessee finished with just 19 sacks. Dupree would be a major addition for a team that regressed last season after advancing to the AFC Championship Game in 2019.
Pros: Assuming he fully recovers from his ACL injury, Dupree is in the prime of his career. After recording 17 sacks and two forced fumbles during his first 54 games, Dupree posted 19.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in his last 27 games. The 6-foot-4, 269-pound Dupree has a unique blend of quickness and power. He has also developed several go-to moves that have allowed him to win his fair share of one-on-ones against opposing tackles and blocking backs. Dupree is a tough, physical player who often leaves his mark after hitting the opposing quarterback. Dupree has been a valued and well-liked player inside the Steelers' facility.
Cons: Only time will tell as it relates to Dupree's effectiveness following his recent surgery. Injury aside, Dupree will have to prove that he can continue to be effective without Watt by his side. Dupree's versatility is also a question mark; he was vastly more successful after moving from left to right outside linebacker heading into his third season. He has just one interception in 11 passes defensed for his career.
News and notes
March 9: Bud Dupree has been informed that the Steelers will not franchise tag him this offseason, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Dupree, who played under the tag in 2020, will enter free agency for the first time in his career.
Feb. 17: Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert does not rule out keeping Dupree in Pittsburgh. To do that, the Steelers will have to part with many of their other free agents while also restructuring several existing contracts. "We are never going to eliminate a great player like Bud Dupree," Colbert said, via Joe Rutter of the Tribune-Review. "We don't know what his market is, and he doesn't know what his market is at this point."