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Bud Dupree's Return to Steelers: Hopeful but Realistic

Bud Dupree heads to the offseason as a free agent with hopes of returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PITTSBURGH -- Of the many free agents the Steelers are now dealing with, one name seems to sit a top the rest. Bud Dupree has had crowds of media members surround his locker at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex all season - asking questions about his breakout year and the impact he's made in his first 10-plus sack season. 

Since being drafted in the first-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Dupree has dealt with injuries and disappointing seasons as he's developed within the starting lineup of Pittsburgh's defense. 

This year, leaving behind 68 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles, Dupree enters free agency. Likely the first choice in the Steelers picks of players to keep, the outside linebacker would be a hot commodity in the NFL free agency pool if the Steelers allowed him to get there. 

"Just going day by day. This is my first time going through this so I'll give it to my agent and stuff and we'll see what goes on from there," Dupree said. 

That's where he the situation stands less than 24 hours since Pittsburgh was eliminated from playoff contention. Without any real certainty as to where the offseason will lead, Dupree is letting everything fall into place - however that may unfold.

He admits he'd like to stay in Pittsburgh. It's "part of the plan" as he explained. Yet, whatever is best for him is how he needs and plans to approach the market. Being unopposed to the franchise tag, he's preparing himself for everything but knows he's found a fit in Pittsburgh.

"You got to make sure you're being a key to for the team and of course money comes into hand and just being able to be somewhere where you feel comfortable and also gives you the best possibility to win," Dupree said. 

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He's not the only one hoping he stays in the same uniform next season. Joe Haden has played with Dupree for the last three years, and with questions ahead for his current teammate, he's making his case for Dupree to stay in Pittsburgh.

"I love Bud, I love Bud a lot. Him and T.J. [Watt] had a good thing going, they helped us out a lot in the back end getting after the quarterback, sacks, turnovers," Haden said. "It's a business, it's a big business but you know things can happen. I hope they understand that this is a team this is a defense that is creating turnovers, getting sacks, getting after the quarterback and Bud's a really big part of that. So, if I had anything to do with anything, if my opinion mattered, I'd love for Bud to be back."

Dressed with a smirk and a slight laugh, Haden knew what's going to happen this offseason has everything to do with the right situation for both sides and not what the men in the locker room are wishing for. 

Still, to hear the words of his teammates, Bud knows he's built something special here. 

"It means a lot, those guys seeing the work that I put being with those guys, becoming friends on and off the field, it says a lot. I hope I continue to be positive towards them," he said.

He walked out of the locker room for what could be his last as a Steelers. Five years he's used to grow and develop into everything this team believed he would be when they selected him 22nd overall in 2015. 

It's an offseason of unknowns for the linebacker and his current/former team. With wishful thinking in mind but realistic expectations, the next several months is going to be another journey for Bud Dupree.

"From this side of it, it's bittersweet," he said. "We lost the game so we're still feeling those emotions but just knowing that free agency is a possibility it's exciting."