Did the Steelers ever consider keeping Bud Dupree over T.J. Watt long-term?

Bud Dupree #48 and T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers . (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Bud Dupree #48 and T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers . (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Steelers knew they couldn’t keep both high-priced edge defenders, but did they ever seriously consider keeping Bud Dupree over T.J. Watt? 

The NFL salary cap is both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, teams are forced to let talented players they drafted walk in free agency because of the cap ceiling. On the other, it’s a great way to help keep teams around the league somewhat balanced and on a level playing field.

We have seen the effects of having no salary cap in Major League Baseball, and how quickly teams can become unbalanced. Even the luxury tax in the NBA allows teams with more money to spend past the cap.

Because of this, I’m certainly not complaining about having a cap ceiling in the NFL, but there are downfalls to this. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost several big names this offseason and weren’t able to do much to replace them.

Knowing full well how the salary cap works in football, there are certain things that teams just can’t do. It’s really hard to pay elite money to two receivers at the same time. This is typically why you never see two receivers from the same team among the highest-paid in the league. Currently, the Buccaneers and the Browns are the only two teams in the league with a pair of receivers each earning more than $11 million per year, according to Over the Cap.

The same can be said for having two cornerbacks or two edge defenders that require elite money. The Steelers recently ran into this dilemma. With Bud Dupree’s contract coming up first, Pittsburgh chose to let him walk. Some have wondered if the Steelers would have kept Dupree over T.J. Watt had the cap space been available. To that, I’d say: not a chance.

Steelers were never going to pay Bud Dupree instead of T.J. Watt

Bud Dupree is a good player; I don’t doubt that. But the idea that the Steelers would have potentially paid him over T.J. Watt is ludicrous – even if they both would have been due for a payday at the same time.

I trust Pittsburgh’s ability to recognize talent. While both players are gifted athletes who have had good seasons each of the past two years, Watt has been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and his play is on a whole other level than Dupree’s.

We could argue that the Steelers could have kept Dupree long term at a cheaper rate than Watt. While this is true, sacrificing the difference in the level of play between the two would not have been worth it. By next year, T.J. Watt could very well be the highest-paid defender in the NFL. Still, I would rather play an elite player elite money than a good player great money – which is exactly what Dupree earned with the Titans.

Granted, I think in a perfect world the Steelers would have loved to pay both players. However, this is something that has just historically been difficult for teams to do when considering the price of edge defenders in the NFL. Even though they would have been feeding off each other for a long time, it would have been difficult to justify allocating $42-45 million per season between a pair of edge rushers.

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To put it simply, no, the Steelers did not make a mistake by letting Bud Dupree go in free agency, and yes, they will be able to lock up T.J. Watt to a long-term extension – even if it means making him the highest-paid edge defender in the league. Great teams pay elite players, and there was never a chance that Dupree was getting a deal in Pittsburgh instead of Watt.