Earlier this week, former Kentucky linebacker Bud Dupree and the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to reach a long-term agreement, meaning the five-year veteran will play the upcoming season on the franchise tag. What exactly is the franchise tag, and what does it mean for Dupree’s future in Pittsburgh?
The franchise tag is a designation an NFL team can apply to one of their players set to become a free agent. It’s levied during late February or early March and used as a placeholder that ensures the player can’t sign with another team during the free agency period. From there, each team has until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract with the designated player. In some cases, a deal is reached — see Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans this year. But when no agreement is met, the player is left to either sign the franchise tag tender or sit out the season — see Le’Veon Bell.
By signing, which Bud Dupree did in April, the player agrees to stay with the team for the next season and earn a set salary based on the average of the top five players at their position. That means Dupree would earn $15.82 million, which is the set rate for outside linebackers. However, he recently filed a grievance to be tagged as a defensive end, which would yield an increased salary of $17.788 million. Dupree may have a compelling case, as he’s coming off a career year with 11.5 sacks.
Seeing as Dupree has steadily improved, it seemed like he would be part of the Steelers’ future plans. Back in March, head coach Mike Tomlin even said signing Dupree was “a priority.” However, the team does have a large crop of impending free agents in 2021 to pay, many of whom are starters. Perhaps this notion influenced the team’s decision.
Typically speaking, players don’t like playing on the franchise tag due to the lack of contract stability it provides. In many cases it seems to turn the player’s relationship with the team sour. Based on recent history, this tag doesn’t bode well for Dupree’s future with the Steelers. Since 2015, only nine players have played a season under the franchise tag and only two — Eric Berry and Jason Pierre-Paul — resigned with the same teams the following season. Most players either reached an extension prior to the July 15 deadline or are traded before the season starts.
Wherever he plays this season, if Dupree replicates his numbers from 2019 he will have plenty of suitors in free agency come 2021.