No matter what happens next, the Carlos Dunlap experience was a win for the Seahawks. Whether the defensive end ends up wearing blue and green beyond 2020, his contributions went above and beyond. 

On Monday the Seahawks cut the 32-year-old to clear $14.1 million in salary-cap space. And though they hope to re-sign him at a discount once he tests the free-agent market, he was a net positive for this team regardless of his future. 

It’s possible some were surprised by the news of Seattle releasing Dunlap given his impact on the defense last season. They saw a man who had 3.5 sacks in his first three games and served as the impetus for the team’s defensive turnaround

They weren’t wrong about that, but the truth is he was never likely to play in Seattle on the $14.1 million he would have been owed had the Seahawks kept him. This is especially true when you consider how much lower the NFL’s salary cap will be than originally expected, because of COVID-19 economic losses.

So now we wait to see what happens next. In the meantime, let’s recognize that Dunlap’s acquisition was one of Seahawks general manager John Schneider’s shrewder moves. 

For one, it cost the team very little to get him. To move Dunlap from Cincinnati, the Seahawks just had to give up backup center B.J. Finney and a seventh-round draft pick. Additionally, he cost them only $2 million against the salary cap. That’s a price you’d pay for a middling starter. But for a Pro Bowler still capable of blowing up offensive lines? It’s the definition of a bargain. 

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Remember how hapless the Seahawks’ defense was through the first half of the season before Dunlap arrived? It was last in the NFL in total defense and was on pace to give up the most passing yards in league history. Then Dunlap showed up, reinvigorated the pass rush, and Seattle rolled to the NFC West crown. 

Through the first seven games of the year, the Seahawks tallied a league-low nine sacks. They ended the season with 46. They also managed to climb to 22nd in total defense.

It wasn’t just because of Dunlap, of course. The return of safety Jamal Adams and emergence of cornerback D.J. Reed also jump-started the once-putrid “D.” But Dunlap’s impact was undeniable — as was his excitement to play in Seattle. 

On Monday, Dunlap took to Twitter to express his gratitude toward his former team and its fan base. “Still grateful to the Seahawks and the #12’s.” Certainly sounds like the door is open for him to come back. 

It’s difficult to tell what Dunlap will be worth once he tests free agency. He’s heading toward the twilight of his career, and, due to the lowered cap, has a lot less leverage than he would have if he were a free agent in previous years. But if his market value is something the Seahawks can afford, it would be mutually beneficial to re-sign him.

Dunlap would return to a playoff contender (assuming quarterback Russell Wilson is still around) and would know exactly where he fits in the defense. The Seahawks would add depth to their pass rush, which was plagued before Dunlap arrived. 

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That said, there are some other factors at play here. 1) Dunlap might be offered a deal too rich for the Seahawks — or he might simply be attracted to new scenery. 2) The Seahawks might gamble on second-year defensive end Darrell Taylor having a big season and decide to spend their money elsewhere (e.g. the offensive line.) 

This is the usual dance for the Seahawks’ front office. Questions abound in March, but Schneider and Co. usually have their needs met once the season rolls around (or in the cases of Dunlap, Duane Brown and Quandre Diggs, midway through the season). 

No doubt this Seahawks offseason already has had plenty of intrigue. No doubt that Dunlap’s release added a bit more to it. 

No matter how things turn out, though, acquiring Carlos was a boon. Future Seahawk or not, he’ll be remembered fondly.