RENTON, Wash. – As part of his trade from Cincinnati to Seattle, defensive end Carlos Dunlap essentially placed a $3 million bet on the table.
But to Dunlap, it’s a risk worth taking to get out of an uncomfortable situation with the Bengals and come to a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
And to Dunlap, it also may not really be that much of a gamble.
“I have full confidence and faith in betting on myself,” Dunlap said Wednesday via Zoom before he took part in his first practice with the Seahawks.
That interview came a few hours after it was revealed that, as part of the trade, Dunlap agreed to shave the $4.59 million salary he was due for the rest of the 2020 season to $2 million, and he’ll earn a bonus of $3 million if he is on the Seahawks’ roster on the fifth day of the 2021 league year.
That gave Seattle an additional $2.59 million in cap space for the rest of this season, which was sorely needed because the Seahawks were listed as $1.4 million over the cap for the 2020 season, according to the NFLPA’s public salary cap report Tuesday.
Dunlap’s contract – a three-year deal worth up to $40 million – runs out after the 2021, and if released before Seattle pays the roster bonus, he could become a free agent.
Seattle could also extend Dunlap before it gets to that point (which it might want to do because Dunlap’s 2021 cap hit is $14.2 million, which includes a $10.25 million base salary).
That puts the onus on Dunlap to prove to the Seahawks he’s worth keeping around and getting at least the $3 million bonus.
“I put my money where my mouth is, and now I’ve got to let my play speak, or my pads speak, as they would say here,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap is equally eager to prove the Bengals were wrong in thinking he is no longer the same player he was when he made Pro Bowls in 2015 and 2016.
Dunlap didn’t start his final three games with the Bengals this year and played just 12 snaps in his final appearance on Oct. 25 against Cleveland, seen in a heated argument on the sidelines at one point with position coach Nick Eason.
“My time, clearly, was up,” said Dunlap, who had played for the Bengals since 2010 and is second in team history with 82½ career sacks. “Just came to that conclusion and we had to do what we had to do. That’s part of the business.”
The Seahawks jumped quickly to get Dunlap once they knew he was legitimately available, doing so in the wake of the 37-34 loss to Arizona that further accentuated the team’s struggle to get a consistent pass rush out of its defensive line (and also with Benson Mayowa suffering an ankle injury that knocked him out of the 49ers game).
Seattle’s investment wasn’t large, giving up offensive lineman B.J. Finney (who had not played an offensive snap) and a seventh-round pick to get Dunlap, who has just one sack this season – his overall grade from Pro Football Focus of 53.9 is by far the lowest of his career. He was at 89.7 last season.
But Dunlap said one reason he was eager to come to Seattle is because Seahawks coaches “believe that I still have plenty of juice in the tank.”
As proof, Dunlap pointed to a game against the Eagles on Sept. 27, when he played 75 snaps and had nine tackles.
“If you look at the tape, there has not been any drop-off,” Dunlap said.
He also likes the idea of playing the team’s LEO/rush end position, though he admitted he had no idea what the term LEO designated until he became a Seahawk.
“I was fired up when (Carroll) called me and basically explained how he wanted to use me,” Dunlap said.
Carroll also talked to Dunlap about how his career with the Bengals ended, with Carroll concluding a new environment may be exactly what Dunlap needs.
“Nine or 10 years, whatever it was there, he’s really excited for the fresh start,” Carroll said.
After arriving in Seattle on Oct. 28, Dunlap was essentially confined to a hotel for six days as he went through the league’s COVID-19 intake protocol.
Passing through that, he was able to finally take the field Wednesday.
Carroll said the fact Dunlap sat out just one week means his conditioning is not an issue and he will be able to play Sunday against the Bills with no restrictions other than what he can handle in terms of the playbook.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner predicted that won’t be an issue, saying after watching Dunlap in the walk-through before practice that Dunlap “already knows everything.”
During the walk-through, Dunlap said he couldn’t help but notice the 14 banners in the team’s indoor facility, including one for winning the Super Bowl in 2013.
Dunlap played in five playoff games with the Bengals, but none since 2015. The Bengals are in clear rebuilding mode now.
“I just want to say that I’m revived, refreshed, and I’ve got an opportunity to reset and write this chapter myself,” Dunlap said.
“So I have full confidence in grabbing the pen and writing exactly what I want to, and I’m looking forward to this first start on Sunday, of (writing) those first words - the first paragraph - down. The Seahawks have given me a golden pen.”
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