The Pittsburgh Steelers have been very busy over the last few weeks carving out room under their salary cap. It is now possible that one major Steelers free agent may actually be resigned. Kevin Colbert now finds himself in the dilemma over who to choose, Bud Dupree or Ju Ju Smith-Schuster. Each has their own pros and cons when it comes to a long term contract. Let’s review each one individually:
Ju Ju Smith-Schuster:
There is no question that Ju Ju Smith Schuster is an extremely talented young receiver. Still only 24, Ju Ju has amassed almost 4,000 career yards, and 26 touchdowns in just four seasons. Most teams would kill for this kind of production from a second round pick.
Ju Ju’s numbers have fallen off the last two seasons, but there are some external factors that have quite a bit to do with that. First in 2019, the injury to Ben Roethlisberger had a catastrophic effect on the entire offense. Neither Devlin Hodges or Mason Rudolph could ever right the ship after the injury. In 2020, we saw a bit of a decline in Ben Roethlisberger. Especially in the second half of the season when the entire offense began to crater. Despite this, Smith-Schuster still managed a career high in touchdowns with nine. At times he was the only reliable receiver on a team riddled with the drops.
The question still lingers as to whether or not Ju Ju Smith-Schuster is an top end wide receiver in this league. He will certainly be looking to be paid as such heading into free agency. Where teams inevitably get in trouble in terms of contracts is when they pay elite money to players who aren’t actually elite.
Ju Ju is coming off a sub par season which saw his average yards per catch drop from 13.1 to 8.6. That’s going from a season without Ben Roethlisberger to a season with him. His 836 yards receiving in 2020 was nearly half the output of his 2017 season. This leads to the narrative that Smith-Schuster is not a number one receiver, but much better in a number two role behind someone like Antonio Brown for instance.
Ju Ju also did himself no favors with the social media stunts he pulled in 2020. Harmless as they may be on the surface, it still evokes warning signs to a possible similar path that Antonio Brown went on just a few years ago. https://www.radio.com/937thefan/sports/pittsburgh-steelers/rod-woodson-hated-jujus-logo-dancing
Bud Dupree was literally born to play outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While he may not quite be the pass rusher that TJ Watt is, he is still above average in that area. Having said that, Dupree is an elite run defender setting the edge like few players can. All this, and he has the ability to drop into coverage at a high level as well. These type of linebackers are nearly impossible to find. Sure Alex Highsmith showed flashes last season, but he will never ascend to the level of Dupree. The combination of Watt and Dupree is like no other in the league, and is the key to the entire Steelers defense.
This brings us to our next point. We have long maintained that Keith Butler is a below average defensive coordinator. We continue to say this despite the gaudy numbers this defense has put up over the last two seasons. The truth of the matter is this defense was a near all-star team in terms of talent. Kevin Colbert used first round picks seven years in a row to bolster this unit. Add the signing of Joe Haden, along with the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick, and this team had seven first round picks as starters on defense in 2020. It’s an unheard of collection of talent on one side of the ball.
After Bud Dupree went down however, the Steelers defense began a rapid decline. Once the overwhelming talent was no longer there, the coaching was exposed. This remains a real problem for the Steelers, and will worsen if they allow Bud Dupree to walk.
The only real factors that would keep the Steelers from resigning Bud Dupree is the salary cap, and the knee injury he suffered last season. While nowadays players regularly recover nearly 100% from these types of injuries, there is still no guarantees. Add to this the fact that Dupree sill seems to be looking for top end pass rusher money, and there is significant risk associated with this.
We also need to consider the Steelers have an in house replacement waiting in the wings. Alex Highsmith could step in right away and do an adequate job at a fraction of the price. That is a huge factor for a cap strapped team like the Steelers.
Our Two Cents:
If it were up to us this would be a very easy decision. The Steelers need to keep this defense intact as much as possible. Bud Dupree is clearly the choice here in our opinion. This probably could have all been avoided if the Steelers had chosen to lock up Dupree instead of Cam Heyward last off-season as we suggested. Bud Dupree vs Cam Heyward: The Steelers chose the wrong player to resign
For a team who can pick wide receivers in the draft like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ju Ju Smith Schuster is easily the more replaceable commodity. Not to mention every year the wide receiver crop seems to get better and better coming out of college. Faced with choosing only one Steelers free agent to sign between Dupree and Smith-Schuster, the pick should be Dupree and it is not close.