The Seahawks won their gamble with defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Two-and-a-half weeks after releasing Dunlap in a salary-cap-cutting move, the Seahawks and Dunlap agreed to a two-year deal. Dunlap’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed that the contract is worth up to $16.6 million with $8.5 million guaranteed.
Dunlap, 32, was set to have a $14.1 million cap hit for the 2021 season (and $10.1 million salary) under terms of a contract that was restructured last October when he was acquired from the Bengals.
The Seahawks wanted Dunlap back, but wanted him on a smaller cap hit, and when they released him on March 8, they bet that the market for Dunlap would not end up being as high as his original salary for 2021.
The Seahawks appear to have played it perfectly, getting Dunlap back on a contract that pays him almost half what he would have received in 2021 on a per-year average — $8.3 million — but is likely structured so that the cap hit for the 2021 season is lower than it is for 2022.
All teams are facing a cap crunch this year with the cap tightened to $182.5 million from last year’s $198.2 million due to COVID-19 related losses in revenue making such cost-cutting moves more common than ever this offseason.
If Dunlap felt any consternation over accepting a smaller salary, he didn’t show it Thursday.
Shortly after news of the contract broke, Dunlap took to Twitter, stating: “Year 12 with the 12’s! -Damn Dunlap the Passion Continues…”
Dunlap had five sacks in eight games after being acquired for a seventh-round pick and little-used offensive lineman B.J. Finney.
His addition powered the Seahawks’ second-half defensive resurgence that saw the them end up with 46 sacks, seventh-most in the NFL, and become one of the stingiest units down the stretch.
The news came a few hours after it was learned the Seahawks are attempting to trade defensive tackle Jarran Reed and will likely release him if a trade cannot be pulled off. Releasing or trading Reed will save the Seahawks $8.9 million against the cap in 2021.
The Seahawks re-signed Benson Mayowa earlier this week to also play the same LEO/rush end spot as Dunlap, meaning the Seahawks will return their main tandem at a vital defensive position.
The Seahawks also signed free-agent end Kerry Hyder, who had a career-high 8.5 sacks last year with the 49ers, in a move that became official Thursday afternoon.
Hyder is expected to play primarily on the other side from Dunlap and Mayowa, at the team’s five-technique end spot.
The signing of Hyder led some to conclude that Dunlap’s return might not happen. But the fact that the two play different spots and can be on the field together meant the Seahawks had hoped all along to get Dunlap back.
Unlike last year when the Seahawks felt they waited too long to move on other players once they had trouble reaching a deal with Jadeveon Clowney, the Seahawks wanted to make sure they had at least some spots filled at their end position, which led to the signings of Hyder and Mayowa.
Getting back Dunlap puts a nice bow on the line for the Seahawks, though the question remains of how they will fill Reed’s snaps.
Also at the LEO spot are 2020 rookies Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor, the latter a second-round pick from Tennessee, who did not play last season while recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture. The return of Dunlap eases the pressure on Taylor to make an immediate impact.
Dunlap played from 2010 until October with the Bengals. He was traded after making it clear he wanted out with Cincinnati in rebuilding mode.
As a condition of his trade, Dunlap agreed to take $2.59 million of salary for the 2020 season and turn it into a $3 million bonus for the 2021 season if he were still on the roster as of March 21, 2021.
That saved $3 million against its 2020 salary cap. That move led to much speculation Dunlap could be released as it raised his 2021 cap hit to $14.1 million.
Dunlap at the time said he agreed to it because “I have full confidence and faith in betting on myself.”
The way Dunlap played the second half of the season made many wonder if the Seahawks might have to keep Dunlap at the higher salary cap number for 2021.
Dunlap had sacks to help clinch games on the final possession against Arizona and Washington and was widely credited for helping draw enough attention from opponents to open up sack opportunities for other players. The Seahawks had 31 of their 46 sacks in the eight games in which Dunlap played in 2021.
Now he’s back to hit quarterbacks again while not hitting the Seahawks’ pocket book quite as much.