NASHVILLE – Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt ended up on different teams but in neighboring tax brackets.
After four highly productive seasons as teammates and complementary pass rushers, each signed his name to a lucrative contract in a span of six months.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Watt agreed to a four-year, $112 million extension Thursday that makes Watt the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player. The 30th overall pick in 2017 is in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie.
Dupree joined the Tennessee Titans in March when he agreed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Among the 2021 free-agent deals, it ranked second in total value, third in average annual value ($16.5 million) and fourth in total guaranteed money ($35 million).
The first chance to see what each can do apart from one another comes Sunday. Despite reconstructive knee surgery last December that limited his ability to practice throughout the offseason, training camp and the preseason, Dupree is expected to play for the Titans in their opener against the Arizona Cardinals at Nissan Stadium.
“I ain’t going out there with the mindset that I’m nervous about my knee or nervous about anything,” Dupree said. “I’m going out there to be my own self and bet be better than I was last year.”
Even if he is just as good as he was with Pittsburgh, it would be an improvement for the Titans.
Dupree and Watt played together with the Steelers from 2017-20 and combined for 80.5 sacks. Watt, with 49.5, ranked third in the NFL over that span. Dupree with 31 was 24th.
Pittsburgh’s 218 sacks during that time led the NFL (the L.A. Rams were second with 192) and more than twice as many as the Titans managed during the same period (144). Watt’s league-leading 15 sacks in 2020 were four fewer than all of the Titans combined.
Dupree contributed eight sacks in 11 games for the Steelers last season before he was injured. It was the second highest total of his career and two and more than twice as many as all but one member of the Tennessee defense managed.
Tennessee won’t have to wait to have him in the lineup. The question is whether or not he can provide immediate dividends.
“When the coaches are saying they want you out there Week 1, you want to make sure you have everything lined up so you can be prepared to go out there and play,” Dupree said. “… I’m never going to be thinking about injury because I feel like in football there’s a 100 percent injury rate. So, if you get hurt, you’re going to get hurt, regardless.”
Not everyone gets paid big money, though. The Titans need their investment in Dupree to pay off.