According to Ian Rapoport, National Insider for NFL Network and NFL.com, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree has filed a grievance with the NFL, arguing that he is a defensive end, not a linebacker.
Why is this distinction important? In a nutshell, NFL defensive ends are better compensated than linebackers.
On March 16, the Steelers placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Dupree, which calls for him to be paid $15.828 million this season—as an outside linebacker. Dupree wants to be seen as a defensive end, because the franchise tag amount for a defensive end is $17.788 million.
A similar argument is being made by linebacker Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who has also filed a grievance.
Bud Dupree Signed His Franchise Tag on April 23
There are a couple of problems with Dupree’s argument, however. One is that he didn’t hesitate to sign his offer; he did that on April 23rd.
Another is that he has been labeled an outside linebacker ever since he was drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Dupree has played in 70 games for the Steelers over the past five seasons, credited with 200 total tackles, 31.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles and one interception.
It’s also worth noting that as an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ defensive scheme, Bud Dupree occasionally drops into pass coverage, a rarity for a true defensive end.
Dupree may argue that there has been a change in his responsibilities—that he doesn’t drop into pass coverage as often as he used to—but it’s still part of his role in the defense.
On the other hand, one thing that may work in Dupree’s favor is that the Steelers don’t utilize their base 3-4 defense as often as they used too, either. For example, in some passing situations the Steelers may line up with only two defensive linemen on the field, in which case Dupree—and fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt—are positioned as ends as part of a four-man front.
How Will This Grievance Get Resolved?
Still, the fact that Dupree already signed his agreement would seem to work in the team’s favor.
It’s also possible that Dupree and the Steelers could work out a compromise solution, much like the Baltimore Ravens did with linebacker Matt Judon, agreeing to a compromise salary of $16.8 million for 2020.
On the other hand, the Steelers are tight against the salary cap and may choose not to accept a compromise, particularly since it seems likely that 2020 will be Dupree’s last year on the team—salary cap constraints being the issue.
The Steelers have until Wednesday July 15 to work out an agreement with Dupree on a multi-year contract extension. Otherwise he will play under the franchise tag for the 2020 season.
In his tweet, Rapoport says “while there is still some time to work something out, the sides are not close on a deal.”
The Steelers drafted Alex Highsmith in the third round of the draft this spring, anticipating that Dupree may leave Pittsburgh via free agency in 2021.
Thirteen different players have received the non-exclusive franchise tag this year. The franchise tag numbers for each position are available via the NFL’s 2020 free agency glossary.
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