Home Free Agency Bud Dupree Part of a Loaded Group of 2020 Free Agent Pass Rushers

Bud Dupree Part of a Loaded Group of 2020 Free Agent Pass Rushers

by Ian

Bud Dupree’s journey to the 2020 offseason has been, like his pass rushing at times, a circuitous route. Dupree was drafted in the first round out of Kentucky as a highly athletic but relatively raw edge rusher. He struggled his first few seasons to make a splash, recording a handful of sacks and battling with injuries. The Steelers put their faith in Dupree, picking up the fifth year option on his contract. Last offseason, there were many who felt that Dupree’s first four seasons did not warrant paying him $9.5 million for a fifth year.

In his season-ending press conference, Mike Tomlin identified re-signing Bud Dupree as one of the top priorities for the Steelers this offseason. Art Rooney II echoed those sentiments in his annual sit-down with the local media. The Steelers obviously feel that Dupree is an important piece of the defense and will make an effort to sign him. However, given the Steelers lack of cap space and the 30% rule being in play with 2020 being the final year of the CBA, Dupree’s presumed contract may be difficult to fit under the cap.

The Free Agent Market

One thing the Steelers do (potentially) have going for them is that the 2020 free agent class is absolutely loaded with pass rushing talent. Of the 18 players that reached double-digit sacks in 2019, 6 will be free agents. If the list is expanded to the 39 players who had at least 8 sacks in 2019, 9 more players are added to the list. All told, that is 15 players on the free agent market this year that recorded 8+ sacks in 2019, including the league’s sack leader Shaq Barrett.

Now, not all of these players are Edge Rushers like Bud Dupree. The list includes defensive linemen Jordan Phillips (Buffalo) and Chris Jones (Kansas City), along with Arik Armstead (San Francisco) who can play either the inside or outside positions. Not including these three, that leaves 11 other edge rushers competing with Bud Dupree in free agency this season. Some will likely be franchised or re-signed by their current teams, but this current crop of free agent pass rushers is unprecedented. Here is a closer look at the group.

Prime Pass Rushers

Shaquil Barrett

2019 team: Tampa Bay
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 19.5 sacks (led NFL), 37 QB Hits, 19 TFL, 6 FF
2020 age: 28 years old

Barrett spent 5 years buried on Denver’s depth chart after signing with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent. In 5 years with the Broncos he saw rotational work, starting 15 games in 5 years and recording 14 sacks with his best year coming in 2015 with 5.5 sacks. After finally becoming a free agent in 2019, he signed a 1-year, $4 million “prove it” deal with Tampa Bay and rewarded the Bucs with a league-leading 19.5-sack season. His one season in Tampa (19.5 sacks, 37 QB Hits) eclipsed his 5-year totals in Denver (14 sacks, 35 QB Hits). Barrett will be one of the premier names on the market this season. Barrett has played as a 3-4 OLB his whole career and was on the SCB Free Agent Wish List last year but given his 19.5-sack season he will certainly be out of range for the Steelers.

Bud Dupree

2019 team: Pittsburgh
2019 position: 3-4 OLB
2019 stats: 11.5 sacks, 17 QB Hits, 16 TFL, 4 FF
2020 age: 27 years old

Steelers fans are very familiar with Dupree’s career to date. He was a first round pick out of Kentucky in 2015 and recorded just 20 sacks and 33 QB Hits over his first four seasons. But the Steelers showed their faith in Dupree and picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal for 2019. Dupree rewarded the Steelers with an 11.5-sack, 17 QB Hit season. Steelers fans went from questioning why Dupree was given the fifth year option for $9.5 million to saying how essential it is for the Steelers to sign him long term. At just 26 years old, Dupree certainly has plenty more years of productivity left.

Marcus Golden

2019 team: New York Giants
2019 position: 3-4 OLB
2019 stats: 10 sacks, 27 QB Hits, 13 TFL, 0 FF
2020 age: 29 years old

Golden was part of the 2015 Draft class with Bud Dupree (and others on this list), but was taken in the middle of the second round by Arizona. He started his rookie season backing up Lamarr Woodley but moved into a starting role in the middle of the year. After a 4-sack rookie campaign he broke out for 12.5 sacks in his second season. Injuries would derail his next two seasons, prompting Arizona to let him walk in free agency. Much like Shaq Barrett, Golden signed a 1-year “Prove It” deal with the Giants for $3.75 million and posted the second double-digit sack season of his career. Golden is one of the few players on the list with multiple double-digit sack seasons, both coming as a 3-4 OLB. He is a capable pass rusher when healthy, but has had two seasons shortened by injuries.

Matt Judon

2019 team: Baltimore
2019 position: 3-4 OLB
2019 stats: 9.5 sacks, 33 QB Hits, 14 TFL, 4 FF
2020 age: 28 years old

Judon was a 5th round pick out of Grand Valley State in 2015 and has been quietly consistent over the last three seasons. He started 12 games in 2017 and posted 8 sacks and 19 QB Hits then recorded 7 sacks and 20 QB Hits in 8 starts in 2018. Last year he started all 16 games and finished with 9 sacks and 33 QB Hits. Impressively, Judon has not missed a game in each of the last three seasons. Will he be the next Ravens OLB to test the free agent market and fizzle out once he gets out of Baltimore’s defense?

Vic Beasley

2019 team: Atlanta
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 8 sacks, 12 QB Hits,  8 TFL, 2 FF
2020 age: 28 years old

Beasley was another member of the 2015 OLB Draft class. After a stellar career at Clemson, the Falcons used a Top 10 pick on him. After Beasley’s 15.5-sack season in 2016 he looked like he was poised to live up to the hype. But Beasley struggled the next two seasons with 5 sacks each year. He did somewhat return to form with 8 sacks in 2019. However, he has never been a player that gets consistent pressure. While some of the players listed above have upwards of 25 QB Hits in addition to double-digit sacks, Beasley’s career high in QB Hits was 16 (and the only other season he had more than 10 was this past year with 12). His status as a former Top 10 pick will keep him in the league, but he will likely not see a massive contract offer like some of the other players on this list.

Aging Veterans

Robert Quinn

2019 team: Dallas
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 11.5 sacks, 22 QB Hits, 13 TFL, 2 FF
2020 age: 30 years old

Quinn was a first round pick by the Rams in 2011 and rewarded St. Louis with three straight double-digit sack seasons from 2012-2014. In those three years Quinn posted 10.5, 19, and 10.5 sacks. Injuries shortened his next two seasons but he got back on track in 2017 with 8.5 sacks. He departed Los Angeles in free agency and after a year languishing in Miami, signed a 1-year $6 million deal with Dallas for 2019 when he posted 11.5 sacks. Quinn has 4 double-digit sack seasons in his career and has proven over time to be a capable pass rusher. Quinn could get a contract similar to the one Justin Houston got last year (2 years, $23 million).

Mario Addison

2019 team: Carolina
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 9.5 sacks, 14 QB Hits, 6 TFL, 2 FF
2020 age: 33 years old

At 32 years old, Addison is one of the oldest players in this free agent class. However, like James Harrison, he was a late bloomer in the field of pass rushers. Addison was an undrafted free agent in 2011 who bounced between Chicago and Indianapolis. In 2012 he played for the Colts, Redskins, and Panthers. He finally settled in to a role with Carolina in 2013, where he has stayed ever since. After posting 6 and 6.5 sacks in 2014 and 2015, he started to come on in 2016. Over the last four seasons, Addison has recorded 9.5, 11, 9.0, and 9.5 sacks. It is hard to say what his value is on the market, but he is certainly playing the best football of his career right now.

Jason Pierre-Paul

2019 team: Tampa Bay
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 8.5 sacks, 16 QB Hits, 9 TFL, 2 FF
2020 age: 31 years old

JPP was a first round pick by the Giants in 2010 and had a breakout season with 16.5 sacks in 2011. After two nondescript seasons, he once again broke the double-digit sack threashold in 2014 with a 12.5-sack season. Unfortunately, after the Giants placed the franchise tag on him, Pierre-Paul suffered a gruesome injury in a Fourth of July fireworks accident that resulted in the loss of one of his fingers. He would play two more seasons with the Giants of 7 and 8.5 sacks before signing a free agent deal with Tampa in 2018. He rewarded the Buccaneers with a 12.5-sack season in 2018 and 8.5 sacks last year. At 30 years old, he certainly has some gas left in the tank as evidenced by his 29.5 sacks over the last three seasons.

Bruce Irvin

2019 team: Carolina
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 8.5 sacks, 16 QB Hits, 8 TFL, 1 FF
2020 age: 33 years old

Irvin was a shocking first round pick by Seattle in 2012. While he has never reached the double-digit sack threshold of an elite pass rusher, he has been consistent over time with between 5.5 and 8.5 sacks in all 9 years of his career. His 8.5 sacks with the Panthers this year was a career high, topping his 8 sacks in 2012 and 2017. Irvin will be 33 years old in 2020 and probably isn’t more than a rotational player at this point.

Young Guns

Dante Fowler, Jr

2019 team: Los Angeles Rams
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 11.5 sacks, 16 QB Hits, 16 TFL, 2 FF
2020 age: 26 years old

Fowler was the first pass rusher taken in the 2015 Draft Class at #3 overall by Jacksonville. His NFL career got off to a rocky start as he tore his ACL in OTA’s and missed his entire rookie season. Fowler had a relatively unremarkable 2016 season with 4 sacks but broke through in 2017 with 8 sacks. He was traded to Los Angeles halfway through the 2018 campaign where he finished with just 4 sacks between the Jaguars and Rams. Fowler broke the double-digit sack threshold in 2019 with 11.5 sacks, but he was hit-and-miss with 3 sacks against Atlanta, 2.5 against San Francisco, and 2 against Carolina. In fact, Fowler had 9 games where he was completely shut out and did not record a sack or QB hit last season. Fowler is just 26 years old and as a former Top 5 pick with a double-digit sack season under his belt, he will garner attention on the market.

Yannick Ngakoue

2019 team: Jacksonville
2019 position: 4-3 DE
2019 stats: 8.0 sacks, 15 QB Hits, 13 TFL, 4 FF
2020 age: 25 years old

Ngakoue was a 3rd round pick out of Maryland who did not jump off the charts in any of his pre-draft athletic testing. However, since entering the league he has been one of the most consistent pass rushers, despite Jacksonville’s continued rotations along the defensive line. After posting 8 sacks as a rookie he had 12 in 2017. That was the only year he broke the double-digit sack threshold, but followed it up with 9.5 and 8 sacks the last two seasons. At just 24 years old, Ngakoue is one of the best power rushers in the free agent class and has plenty of years of upside left after posting 37.5 sacks in his first four seasons.

Jordan Jenkins

2019 team: New York Jets
2019 position: 3-4 OLB
2019 stats: 8 sacks, 13 QB Hits, 9 TFL, 2 FF
2020 age: 26 years old

In the 2016 Draft, there were two pass rushers from Georgia. The first was Leonard Floyd who went in the Top 10 to the Bears. The second was Jenkins, who went in the third round to the Jets. New York has been in search of pass rushing talent for the better part of a decade, and still haven’t found a consistent player. That said, Jenkins’ career to date shows the kind of trend you want to see in a young player. He posted 2.5 sacks as a rookie then progressively improved with 3, 7, and 8 sacks the next three seasons. Jenkins has been a durable player, starting at least 11 games in all four of his seasons.

Other Names to Watch

In addition to the 12 players listed above, all of whom had at least 8 sacks last year, there are a number of other players to keep an eye on this offseason. The Packers signed Za’darius Smith and Preston Smith this offseason to serve as their new bookend edge rushers. This displaced Kyler Fackrell from the starting lineup, who had a 10.5-sack season in 2018. Fackrell is set to be a free agent this year and will be 29 years old, so it will likely be his last chance to cash in on a big deal. Other former first round picks Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah who both played for Seattle last season will also be free agents after unproductive seasons.

Buffalo’s Shaq Lawson and New England’s Kyle Van Noy are also set to be free agents. Other players on the wrong side of 30 who will be looking for one last contract include Jabaal SheardMichael Bennett, Vinny Curry, and Dion Jordan. Cleveland’s Olivier Vernon, the Chargers’ Melvin Ingram, Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell, and Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan are all candidates to be salary cap casualties this year as they are entering the last year of their deals with large cap numbers.

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