Remember the days of Melvin Ingram? I know he’s a bad word around these parts, but you can’t deny that it was a nice-while-it-lasted situation. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were fresh and fierce with the luxury of having a three-time Pro Bowler at their disposal as a rotational player. That’s part of what allowed Watt to earn Defensive Player of the Year status. It appears the Pittsburgh Steelers are interested in recreating that scenario.
Per sources close to the situation, DK Pittsburgh Sports’ Dejan Kovacevic revealed that if the Steelers have their way, it could happen this season. The Tennessee Titans are shedding salary cap, which started with cutting nine-year left tackle Taylor Lewan, another player linked to Pittsburgh in recent weeks. Many believe that former Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree could be another cap casualty, and the Steelers are eager to snap him up.
Former Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats is on Team Dupree and feels like a rotational role is exactly what he needs to shine. “If Bud comes to be the third guy, number one, I think it’s great for the Steelers, but I think it is great for Bud too,” Dupree said on The Arthur Moats Experience.
“It takes that pressure off him while he’s trying to get back healthy because he still wasn’t healthy at the end of last season. This would give him a chance to ease back into this thing, get some situations where you’re set up to succeed. When I think of Bud with T.J. and Highsmith as a rotation, I’m like, this is crazy.”
Cutting Dupree makes sense for Tennessee. According to Spotrac, he has a $20.2 million salary cap hit in 2023, second to only quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Kovacevic broke it all down from a money angle, which is the tricky part. “If Dupree’s cut before June 1, per league rules, the Titans wouldn’t have to pay his $17 million base salary for 2023, and they’d emerge with a $9.35 million cap savings for the coming season, as well. If Dupree’s cut on June 1 or afterward, they’d emerge with a $15.75 million cap savings for the coming season … but they can’t use it until that same date, by which point the league’s free-agency market is essentially all out of goodies.”
It remains to be seen what kind of contract Dupree would command on the open market.
Does Signing Bud Dupree Make Sense for the Steelers?
It makes sense for the Titans to unload Bud Dupree, but would it make sense for the Steelers to bring him back? While a depth outside linebacker may not seem urgent, it can be compared to missing a starter, given how frequently the Steelers use a rotation. We already know what a solid third guy can do. Once touted as a “perfect fit,” ex-Denver Broncos linebacker Malik Reed was abysmal in 2022 and didn’t fall into the solid category. You can imagine with the current outside linebacker depth chart looks like from Reed down.
Dupree has been a hot mess during his stay in Tennessee. The Titans took a risk by signing him coming off a late-season ACL tear. He missed six games in 2021 and, in seven of the 11 games he suited up, played less than 60 percent. He missed four more games with two separate hip injuries in 2022. He exited early in others and didn’t play in the final two games of the regular season.
Dupree told Nashville’s A to Z Sports that the torn ligament was to blame. “Just coming back from the ACL injury, that puts stress on your body. Lots of compensation going on within that time, and you develop habits that you normally don’t.”
When healthy, Dupree can still be somewhat effective. In 22 games with Tennessee, he logged 7.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 14 QB hits. While those aren’t elite-level numbers, a similar production would be expected from the Steelers.
We’ll likely have to wait until summer to see if the scenario unfolds for Pittsburgh to bring Dupree back, but he’d have to swallow his pride and accept a rotational role.