The Pittsburgh Steelers Simply Dodged an $82.5 Million Bullet That’s Tennessee’s Downside Now

When evaluating free agents, whether it’s your own or another team’s, NFL franchises must weigh the risk and the reward. What will signing the player costs? What are the possible downsides? How high is the potential production of the player? In 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans both asked and answered these questions when it came to free-agent pass rusher Bud Dupree.

The Steelers decided it wasn’t worth a five-year, $82.5 million commitment to keep the player in black and gold. The Titans thought it was worth exactly that to bring the former Kentucky Wildcat to Music City.

There is a lot of time left for Dupree to prove the Titans right, but very early returns may point to the Steelers making the better decision.

Bud Dupree developed into a premier pass rusher in Pittsburgh 

Bud Dupree | Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Steelers picked Dupree No. 22 overall in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. The Georgia native put up big numbers at Kentucky before heading to the NFL. In his four years in Lexington, Dupree rang up 247 tackles, 25.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles.

Dupree came into a Steel Curtain D in 2015 behind veteran Arthur Moats and across from Pittsburgh legend James Harrison. He played well during his inaugural season, putting up 4.0 sacks and 26 tackles. He even supplanted Moats as the starter for the last five games of the campaign.   

The 6-foot-4 edge rusher became the starter in 2017, but a training camp groin injury that required surgery kept him out of the first nine games, per Draft Sharks. The following two seasons, he missed a game with a shoulder injury but otherwise played regularly. He started 15 games each year and put up 6.0 and 5.5 sacks.

Dupree’s fourth season, 2019, was his breakout year. He recorded career highs in tackles (68) and sacks (11.5). The 2020 season looked very similar (8.0 sacks through 11 games) until Dupree tore his ACL.

The pass-rushing linebacker played 2020 on a one-year deal after the Steelers franchised him and became an unrestricted free agent in 2021. That’s when the Titans stepped in with a five-year 82.5 million contract with $35 million guaranteed.

The Tennessee Titans placed Dupree on the PUP list to start 2021 training camp

Dupree injured his knee in a game against the Baltimore Ravens on December 2. Almost eight months later, he isn’t ready to resume playing.

The Tennessee Titans announced leading into training camp that Dupree will begin the preseason on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, per Being on the PUP list means that a player can attend meetings and work out or rehab injuries, but they cannot practice until cleared by a team doctor.  

Putting Dupree on this list now makes sense for the Titans if he’s not ready to play right away. It allows him to come back at any time during the preseason because he hasn’t practiced yet. If he practices and then needs to be shut down for a time, then he’d have to go on injured reserve.

What Titans fans should watch out for is the regular-season PUP list. If Dupree is eventually put on that list, he’ll automatically miss the season’s first six games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans play Week 15 

The Steelers recently replaced Bud Dupree with veteran free agent rusher Melvin Ingram. The Titans tried upgrading their defense this offseason by signing Janoris Jenkins and Danico Autry in addition to Dupree, per The Tennessean. They also drafted cornerback Caleb Farley in the first round.

The two teams will face off in, what could be, a big Week 15 matchup. Both teams made the playoff teams last year, with the Steelers finishing 12-4 and the Titans 11-5. Each squad brings most of their 2020 team back this year, and they have playoff aspirations.

The game, in Pittsburgh, is a 1 P.M. EST kickoff. Since the matchup will happen after Week 11, it is eligible for flexible scheduling. This means if it is one of the best games of the week, the NFL could decide to move it to Sunday Night Football.  

Dupree could get his revenge in this game, or the Pittsburgh Steelers may prove they were right about the injured star. We’ll find out in Week 11.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and contract figures courtesy of spotrac

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