According to multiple reports, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree will be leaving in free agency, set to sign a contract with an old rival, the Tennessee Titans, who had bitter battles against the Steelers when the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans were in the old AFC Central division.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network/NFL.com was first with the news and indicates that the contract is worth $16.5 million per year. Dupree can officially sign the contract on Wednesday, March 17 at 4 p.m. ET.
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Did the Titans Overpay for Dupree?
It’s a sizeable per-year average for Dupree’s services, especially considering that the former first-round pick is rehabbing from a torn ACL that he suffered against the Baltimore Ravens this past December. But Tennessee is absolutely desperate to improve its pass rush, having produced a mere 19 sacks in 2020, third-lowest in the NFL behind the Cincinnati Bengals (17) and Jacksonville Jaguars (18).
It’s also a fairly high-risk signing for the Titans. It was only a week ago that Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus called Dupree “overrated,” and characterized him as a “classic buyer-beware candidate at the edge position.”
Never mind Dupree’s first-round pedigree and the fact that he has had 22 sacks in his past 27 games.
“The problem is that he has played in an environment that gives him a lot of layups in terms of pass rushing,” offered Monson, a reference to the fact that in Pittsburgh Dupree was rushing the passer with Defensive Player of the Year runner-up T.J. Watt, not to mention top defensive ends like Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
“Last season, 60.5% of Dupree’s total pressures were either unblocked, cleanup or pursuit plays, which are more circumstantial than they are evidence of plus play. By contrast, only 26% of T.J. Watt’s pressures fell into those categories,” continued Monson.
“Dupree can take advantage of a beneficial situation as a complementary pass-rusher, but there isn’t much evidence that he can manufacture his own elite-level production,” he concludes.
Yet a pass rusher who can “manufacture his own production” is exactly what the Titans need, having been burned by two disastrous signings in free agency last year.
For one, the Titans signed former Atlanta Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley to a $9.5 million contract in March 2020. He arrived to training camp ten days late due to an unexcused absence and he produced so little that the Titans released him in November.
Meanwhile, the Titans also had Jadeveon Clowney on a one-year $13 million contract and he produced zero sacks in eight games before he suffered a knee injury that required surgery.
Alex Highsmith Will Be Bud Dupree’s Replacement
Back in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have been planning for Dupree’s departure, which explains why they drafted Alex Highsmith (Charlotte) in the third round last year.
As a rookie, Highsmith played in all 16 games and started five, amassing 48 tackles (30 solo), with five tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, two sacks and an interception. That’s not in the same league as what Dupree contributed in 2020 (including eight sacks), but is actually very comparable to how Dupree fared as a rookie in 2015.
Dupree was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft (No. 22 overall) out of the University of Kentucky. In 81 career games with the Steelers he recorded 231 tackles (169 solo), with 54 tackles for loss, 65 quarterback hits, 39.5 sacks, 11 passes defensed, one interception, eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
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