In a move that for now saves $14.1 million against the team’s 2021 salary cap, the Seahawks released veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap II on Monday.
The Seahawks and Dunlap tried to work out a longer-term deal that would have reduced his cap hit for the 2021 season. But when those efforts failed, as part of the agreement when the team acquired Dunlap from Cincinnati last fall, Seattle will now let Dunlap test the market, hoping to get him back.
The team appeared to signal its strong intention to retain Dunlap on a different contract in a story on its website announcing the move that stated “the door is very much still open for a return in 2021.”
Still, for now Dunlap is free to sign with any other team and he figures to have suitors after the way he performed down the stretch in 2020.
Speculation on Dunlap’s future grew when the team and Dunlap agreed to a restructured contract after he was traded from the Bengals to Seattle on Oct. 28.
At that time, Dunlap agreed to cut the $4.59 million salary he was due for the rest of the 2020 season to $2 million. That money would’ve turned into a $3 million bonus if he were on the Seahawks’ roster on the fifth day of the 2021 league year (March 22).
Dunlap’s 2021 contract also included a $10.1 million base salary. But because none of the money was guarantee, Seattle saves all of it against the cap by releasing Dunlap now before his roster bonus would have kicked in.
That move gave Seattle an additional $2.59 million in cap space for the rest of 2020 season, when the team had just $1.4 million at the time.
The team felt releasing Dunlap was necessary to clear out cap space as the free agent signing period approaches.
Seattle entered Monday with a listed $4.575 million in cap space for the 2021 season by OvertheCap.com. After the release became official, Seattle was listed as having $18.612 million in cap space for the 2021 season, 13th-most in the NFL. However, cap spaces for all teams remain unclear as the NFL has yet to set the number for the 2021 season, even though the new league year begins a week from Wednesday.
The cap generally is expected to be in the range of $182 million to $183 million, down from $198.2 million a year ago due to COVID-19-related losses in revenue.
The $14.037 million cap hit for Dunlap would have been the biggest on the team for 2021 after Russell Wilson ($32 million), Bobby Wagner ($17.1 million) and Tyler Lockett ($14.95 million).
Dunlap now gets a jump on testing the market. Because he was released, he can sign somewhere immediately instead of having to wait until the league’s new year to start March 17, as free agent players will.
“I have full confidence and faith in betting on myself,’’ Dunlap told reporters via Zoom last year after he was traded to Seattle and the news of his restructured contract had been revealed. He had been acquired for offensive lineman B.J. Finney (who didn’t play a down for Seattle last year) and a seventh-round draft choice.
And Dunlap undoubtedly might think he made a great bet as he recorded five sacks in eight games with the Seahawks and helped revitalize the Seattle defense. The Seahawks were on pace to allow the most yards in NFL history through the first half of the season but instead became one of the stingiest in the second half. They also finished seventh in sacks with 46.
After the season, Dunlap spoke optimistically of continuing to play for the Seahawks but said he also understood the realities of the business.
“I’d love to stay in Seattle as long as they’ll have me,” said Dunlap, who turned 32 in February.
But if Dunlap departs for good, the Seahawks will need to bolster their pass rush.
Dunlap played 55% or more of the defensive snaps in six of the eight games he played with the Seahawks. He had two sacks in a key victory over Arizona, including one that helped clinch the game in the final minute, and also had a game-clinching sack in a victory at Washington in December.
Dunlap was acquired after injuries to Bruce Irvin, who had a season-ending knee injury, and second-round choice Darrell Taylor was out for the season to recover from surgery to repair a stress fracture.
Irvin now is set to be a free agent March 17, as is Benson Mayowa. It’s unclear when Irvin will be recovered from his ACL tear. The Seahawks appear likely to try to re-sign Mayowa.
The release of Dunlap leaves Seattle with just four defensive ends under contract for 2021 — Taylor, L.J. Collier, Rasheem Green and Alton Robinson.
There will be plenty of pass rushers available soon, especially with NFL observers speculating that more players will be released before the start of the new league year due to the decreased cap number.
On Monday, Dunlap got a head start joining that list.
This story will be updated.