In win-now mode and desperate to improve a defense that is on pace to allow more yards than any team in NFL history, the Seahawks on Wednesday acquired veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap from the Cincinnati Bengals.
And they did so for what felt like a relative pittance, in reserve offensive lineman B.J. Finney — who had not played an offensive snap this season — and a 2021 seventh-round pick. The trade came together “in really rapid fashion,” in the words of head coach Pete Carroll.
Indeed, each side appeared highly motivated to get the deal done quickly, with Seattle in obvious need of improving a pass rush that has just nine sacks in six games — and didn’t generate a single quarterback hit in Sunday’s 37-34 overtime loss at Arizona — and the Bengals needing to unload a player who had made it clear he was unhappy and wanted out.
Dunlap, who is second all-time in Bengals history with 82½ sacks, played just 12 snaps in Cincinnati’s loss Sunday to Cleveland and was seen in a heated discussion with line coach Nick Eason in the final moments, later taking to Twitter to post that his house was for sale (a tweet he later deleted).
Shortly after the trade, the 31-year-old Dunlap posted a video on Instagram stating in part: “It’s all up from here. Let’s go. I get to play. Above all, I get to play. Thank you, Lord. I go with you.”
That seemed to be a reference to his reduced role of late with the Bengals — he had not started the last three games with Cincinnati in a youth movement.
He won’t have to worry about not getting enough work with the Seahawks, though he will have to wait a week to play.
Because of the league’s enhanced COVID-19 protocols, which require a six-day intake for new players, Dunlap will not be available until the Nov. 8 game against Buffalo (it’s also one reason the trade was not made until Wednesday as each player has already received their game checks from their old teams for this week). Dunlap was expected to arrive in Seattle Wednesday night, but that won’t be enough time to get through the process.
But starting with the Bills game, Carroll said the Seahawks will give Dunlap “a chance to help us in an area we’ve been talking about for some time.”
Seattle must pay Dunlap $4.8 million for the rest of the season, with the Bengals not willing to take on any of his salary, and his contract also includes a non-guaranteed $11.25 million for the 2021 season.
Getting rid of Finney and his roughly $2 million cap hit for the rest of the season will help the Seahawks fit in Dunlap, but it could mean Seattle has to shuffle some other money around — including bonuses due. In Dunlap, Seattle appears to be taking on roughly $3 million more in cap space. According to NFL Players Association figures, the Seahawks had about $1.3 million in cap space remaining before the trade.
Whether Dunlap is around in 2021 at his current salary may be contingent on how things go the rest of this season.
The Seahawks, though, hope it goes well enough to have a decision to make.
Carroll said Dunlap will play primarily at the team’s LEO or rush end spot, sharing time with Benson Mayowa and Alton Robinson.
“We’re moving him around and doing a lot of things that really fit his style of play on the edge a bunch,” Carroll said. “He’s always been an edge rusher, a disrupter. … this is an outside guy. He’s classically what you look for as an edge rusher.”
Adding Dunlap should help solidify the line, which has been in flux since the first two weeks of the season, when the Seahawks lost end Rasheem Green to a stinger/nerve issue in Week 1 and then Bruce Irvin to an ACL injury in Week 2.
Green is on his way back, practicing on Wednesday for the first time, possibly able to return Sunday to team with LJ. Collier and Damontre Moore at the five-technique end spot.
Dunlap can then join the following week to rotate with Mayowa and Robinson.
Carroll mentioned that Mayowa has already played 344 snaps, or 72% of all the snaps on defense.
“It will really help Benson a lot,” Carroll said. “It’s going to help us a lot just to be able to keep us fresh. We know that if we can keep Benson fresh from too many reps that he really can be effective for, so hopefully that’ll happen from this point forward.”
The Dunlap move now marks the fourth major trade for a veteran in the past 12 months to try to improve a defense that has not been the same since the dismantling of the Legion of Boom during and after the 2017 season.
A year ago this month, Seattle traded a fifth-round pick to Detroit for Quandre Diggs (Seattle also received a seventh-round pick in 2021 that may be the one that was sent to the Bengals in the Dunlap trade).
In the offseason, Seattle traded a fifth-round pick to Washington for cornerback Quinton Dunbar, then made a major trade with the Jets to get safety Jamal Adams, including dealing each of its next two first-round picks.
Dunlap played at Florida and was a second-round pick of the Bengals in 2010. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015, when he had 13½ sacks, and again the next season, when he had 15 pass defenses, eighth-most among all players in the league.
But after starting the first four games of this season, Dunlap came off the bench the last three weeks, and things came to a head this week with the Bengals telling him not to come to practice Wednesday as a deal was worked out.
Pro Football Focus ranks Dunlap just 91st of 111 defensive ends this season with a pass rush grade 74th of 111.
Via PFF, Dunlap has played 186 pass rush snaps this season and has 13 total pressures, including 10 hurries, two quarterback hits and a sack.
But Dunlap was ranked third of 104 ends by PFF a year ago, and it’s that player the Seahawks will now be hoping to get, with the compensation having made it worth the risk.
“There’s been some issues or whatever,” Carroll said to reporters via Zoom after the trade was made official Wednesday. ” … That’s their story. I don’t know that it has anything to do with what’s going on here. I’ve talked to him and he’s really excited about being part of our program and getting in here. He made a good effort to show that in making this all happen, as well. And, you know, he’s been a stellar dude for a long time in that program, and whatever happened happened, but it’s a fresh start for him here.”
Finney had emerged as maybe Seattle’s most disappointing offseason acquisition. Signed to a two-year deal worth up to $8 million, the expectation was he would take over the starting center job after Seattle released Justin Britt.
Instead, he lost the job to Ethan Pocic, and then didn’t even emerge as a backup at guard, his other spot, with Seattle using Jordan Simmons and Jamarco Jones as replacements at guards when starters Damien Lewis and Mike Iupati have missed time due to injuries.
Finney had not played an offensive snap all season, though he had been active for every game, playing 29 snaps on special teams.
So that leaves Seattle with four picks remaining in 2021 — a second, fourth, fifth and seventh, with the Seahawks not projected to get any extra picks as compensation for lost free agents.