Carlos Dunlap was a great midseason competitive fit for the Seahawks in 2020. But in 2021, the defensive end was going to be a burdensome financial fit. So now he’ll become a free agent next week when the NFL’s annual talent bazaar gets underway, according to a tweet Monday morning from ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter saying Dunlap was cut.
The fate of QB Russell Wilson is not the only heavy lift for the Seahawks off-season. Just the most unexpected one.
The club was barely under the salary cap when it was at $198 million, so now that financial losses from empty stadiums have dropped the 2021 number into the range of $185 million (still not official), Dunlap’s $14 million expense in his age-32 season was seen as a likely casualty.
Which doesn’t mean he still can’t be Seahawk.
Still Grateful. Thank You Seahawks and to the #12 ‘s 🙌🏾!
House in Cincy is officially listed now lol, and about to lower the price.
— Carlos Dunlap (@Carlos_Dunlap) March 8, 2021
He’ll have to accept a pay cut, but could get a two- or three-year deal under team-friendly terms. That’s also true for 31 other teams, who will pick through a high number of quality rush ends that are likely to become available by the March 17 start of free agency.
In eight games after coming over from Cincinnati, where he played 11 seasons, Dunlap had five sacks, six tackles for loss and 14 QB hits, helping turn the defense into one of the NFL’s best units by season’s end. He also had a quarterback hit and two passes defended in the playoff game against the Rams.
Before his inexpensive arrival — the Seahawks gave the Bengals back-up C B.J. Finney, a free-agent signee who never played in Seattle, and a seventh-round pick — a season-ending injury to DE Bruce Irvin and a health no-show by rookie second-round DE Darrell Taylor helped make the early season pass rush woeful.
But it finished the season with 46 sacks, seventh-most in the league, thanks in part to Dunlap’s arrival and the return to health of another newcomer, SS Jamal Adams.
Although Taylor is expected to play, there is doubt about the return of Irvin, 34 in November, after knee surgery. Benson Mayowa, 30 in August, is also a free agent.
Besides potentially back-filling for Dunlap, the Seahawks have big decisions to make on which of their own top unrestricted free agents to attempt to keep: CBs Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar, RBs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, LB K.J. Wright, C Ethan Pocic and WR David Moore. And Adams enters his contract’s final year expecting an extension.
All of these decisions fall in the shadow of Wilson’s unmoored future.
The $14 million in cap savings could be sucked up in pursuit of upgrades to the offensive line, a position that will have several quality free agents who would satisfy Wilson’s desire for more physical safety. Or the money could be held in a sort of escrow in case they are forced to trade Wilson and account for at once, by NFL rule, all $39 million in dead money he’s already been paid.
The roster-management task is formidable — as it is for each club in this unprecedented year of cap shrinkage. But none of them are looking at the possibility of replacing a franchise quarterback while missing at least $40 million in resources to do so.
Until that decision is made, top free agents with choices are going to look at the Seahawks with eyebrows in high arch. This will be a lousy period in the NFL calendar to have pants around one’s knees.