The Steelers usually do not like to ruffle too many feathers when it gets this close to the season. The biggest move they’ve made in recent memory prior to the season was signing Joe Haden. However, with the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade last season, the Steelers have proven they will shake the tree if they deem it necessary. So, when Pro Football Network insider Tony Pauline reported the Steelers had been poking around on Jadeveon Clowney, there was some surprise, but not a ton.

“A source close to Clowney told me the Pittsburgh Steelers have been poking their nose around to see if they can sign him. I don’t think he’s going to end up with the Steelers,” said Pauline. “…With the Steelers, they’re strapped at the cap. They don’t have a lot of room. They’d have to make room, and the situation would have to be right.” 

The question must be asked: Is this is even possible? Let’s examine a few key points to see if it’s possible or, more importantly, plausible.

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How could the Steelers create cap space to add Jadeveon Clowney?

So, the Steelers cap situation is, to put it simply, dire. With only $4.7 million in cap space right now, the Steelers are in a vice-like grip financially. In order to add a player like Clowney, they would either have to get rid of someone, extend some players, or restructure them. There are a few ways to clear space, but all of them involve one common element, trading Bud Dupree.

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The Steelers can clear cap space by restructuring guys like Stephon Tuitt and David DeCastro, but with cap constraints looming in 2021, the Steelers likely do not want to wade into those waters. Signing Cam Heyward to a contract extension could considerably lower his cap hit as well. However, even if all of these things occurred, it would not be nearly enough space to add Clowney.

Thus, if the Steelers want to add Clowney, they would have to find a trade partner willing to take on the $16 million cap hit from Dupree’s franchise tag. If cleared, the Steelers would then have around $20 million in cap space to work with. That is in a functional range to possibly pursue Clowney. However, yet again, understand this is the only path to clearing that said space. As such, the Steelers have to ask if Clowney is an upgrade from Dupree.

Is Clowney an upgrade from Dupree?

So, let’s start off with a baseline comparison for pass-rushing stats. Clowney only played 13 games last year to Dupree’s 16 games, but these stats tell the whole story of these two as pass rushers.

In 2019, Dupree had 30 hurries, 29 quarterback hits, five knockdowns, 48 pressures, and 11.5 sacks. Clowney, in 2019, in only 13 games, had 41 hurries, 25 quarterback hits, 11 knockdowns, and 46 pressures. The pace Clowney was on clearly says that he would have surpassed Dupree in all of the key stats listed above.

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That is not to say Dupree is not a good player; in fact, he’s very good and took a huge leap last year. He set multiple career highs by a wide margin in most of those categories, but Clowney’s technique and even athleticism are likely a bit better. Dupree himself is quite a freakish athlete himself, but not on Clowney’s level of freakishness with his insane burst. The main argument Dupree has is health. Clowney has missed nine games in the last five seasons, after missing 12 games in his rookie season.

Both Dupree and Clowney are top-notch run defenders in the NFL. They take on top tackles and guards and make them look downright silly by holding a strong edge or penetrating gaps due to their explosiveness. In that area, these guys are mostly a wash due to their similar skillsets and usage against the run.

Is it plausible to add Clowney?

This is the most critical question anyway. Yes, I believe Clowney is an upgrade. Still, we are less than three weeks away from the 2020 season kicking off. To find a trade partner for Dupree and then to get into the Clowney sweepstakes with no guarantee of getting him seems rather odd to me. It could make sense, but this would unprecedented for the Steelers.

Much like the Fitzpatrick trade in 2019, when it comes to the Steelers making groundbreaking moves, I tend to go in with an I’ll believe it when I see it mentality. This is just not a type of move that the Steelers do. They never traded Le’Veon Bell, so it seems hard-pressed that they’d ship out Dupree when he is a very good edge rusher anyways.

The cap hurdles the Steelers would have to go through in this process would be extensive. They likely were poking their head around on Clowney, I do not doubt that, but unless Dupree was seriously injured, I have doubts they thought about pursuing it seriously. In other words, I just do not see it happening, and I do not think, from the Steelers’ history, this is plausible.