Tennessee Titans betting big on Bud Dupree to solve long-standing pass-rush woes

Bud Dupree ranks eighth in the NFL in sacks over the past two seasons with 19.5. Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Finding an impact pass-rusher has been near the top of Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson's list since he took over in 2016. Robinson's attempts to address it have included selecting Kevin Dodd with the 33rd overall pick in the 2016 draft, signing 37-year-old outside linebacker Cameron Wake to a three-year, $23 million contract in 2019, and investing more than $20 million in Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney last year.

None of those moves panned out.

"That’s one thing that we’ve got to do better is affect the quarterback. That comes in a myriad of ways," Robinson said in a virtual news conference in February. "It’s rushing the passer, it’s coverage, it’s blitzing, there’s a lot of ways to affect the passer, but yeah, that’s something that is high on our list. I think we would love to have that guy. We want all of our players to be successful, including the edge-rush guys. We’re looking for those kinds of players, willing to invest resources."

The first day of the negotiating period before the 2021 NFL year officially starts on Wednesday could go down as the moment Robinson finally got it right after Tennessee agreed to terms with former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree on Monday.

It's a five-year deal worth $82.5 million, including $35 million guaranteed, with an average annual salary of $16.5 million. The Titans' hefty financial commitment to Dupree makes it clear the team is betting big on the six-year veteran to solve its pass-rushing issues.

Dupree ranks eighth in the NFL in sacks over the past two seasons with 19.5. The Titans desperately needed a consistent pass-rusher after averaging only 1.2 sacks per game last season, finishing with 19 (ranked 30th). Dupree has had only nine games without a sack over the last 27 times he took the field.

He finished his Steelers career with 66 starts, 39.5 sacks, 169 solo tackles, 54 tackles for loss, an interception return for a touchdown and 65 quarterback hits.

Dupree's pass-rush toolbox includes a stab, a club, a bull rush and more. It all starts with how well Dupree gets a jump off the line when the ball is snapped. According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, Dupree's 0.72 average get-off time tied with Yannick Ngakoue for the third-fastest time in the NFL this season.

At 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds, Dupree is coming off an ACL tear in his right knee suffered in December. There will be questions about how soon he can regain the form that made him so effective before the injury.

Dupree told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler in early March that he plans to be a full participant in an NFL training camp based on positive feedback from his doctors. The Titans need a healthy season from Dupree after fielding only three outside linebackers for most of their games last season.

Harold Landry III (5.5 sacks in 2020) was on the field for 94% of the Titans' defensive snaps despite a preseason plan from outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen to better manage his snap count last year. Dupree finished third on the Steelers with 583 snaps in 2020 even though he missed six games.

Most of Dupree's damage came playing with an outstanding group of pass-rushers in Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt. Watt and Dupree together accounted for 26 sacks in 2019.

Dupree's addition came on the same day the Titans agreed to terms with former Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman Denico Autry. They combined for 15.5 sacks last season -- Dupree's 8.0 sacks came in 11 games, and Autry finished with 7.5 in 14 games.

Pairing Dupree with Autry and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons up front should ease the questions about how impactful the former Steelers pass-rusher can be without a cast of All-Pros around him.

Simmons had 14 QB pressures last season, and Autry was double-teamed on 57.8% of his interior pass rushes. The duo of disruptive interior pass-rushers, along with Landry coming off the edge on the weak side, should present Dupree with plenty of opportunities to win one-on-one matchups against offensive linemen.