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Seahawks DE Carlos Dunlap
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The Seahawks may have to choose between Jarran Reed, Carlos Dunlap

Seahawks DE Carlos Dunlap has one year left on his current contract. (Getty)

From the 2019 offseason to halfway through the 2020 season, the main story involving the Seahawks was centered around the pass rush.

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Due to a lack of draft capital as well as limited cap space, the Seahawks traded defensive end Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs for two draft picks in the 2019 NFL Draft – including a first-round pick – as well as a second-rounder in 2020.

While some, like 710 ESPN Seattle’s own Danny O’Neil, argue that it was ultimately the right call to trade Clark, the lack of a pass rush after he left town was evident.

Clark led the Seahawks with 13 sacks in 2018 and Seattle was tied for 11th in the league with 43 total. In 2019, despite a trade for Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, that total dipped to just 28, which was tied for the second-fewest in the NFL.

Seattle used the 2020 offseason to shore up the pass rush, signing veterans Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin and drafting defensive ends Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson, not to mention trading for safety Jamal Adams, who recorded 6.5 sacks in 2019 with the New York Jets.

Well, Taylor didn’t play in 2020 and Irvin tore his ACL in Week 2. Additionally, Mayowa battled injuries in the middle of the season and had just two sacks through Week 11 while Adams, after recording sacks in each of the first two games, missed Weeks 4-8 with a groin injury. The Seahawks had just 12 sacks through Week 8, and in a Week 7 loss they hit bottom against the Arizona Cardinals, recording no sacks, no QB hits and just one pressure on 48 passing attempts by Arizona’s Kyler Murray.

So what did the Seahawks do? They traded with the Cincinnati Bengals for defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who recorded five sacks in eight games for the Seahawks. Additionally, defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who had 10.5 sacks in 2018, recorded 4.5 of his 6.5 sacks in games that Dunlap played.

Ultimately after a slow start, the Seahawks’ pass rush kicked things into high gear and finished the year seventh in the NFL sacks with 46.

With Dunlap, 32, and Reed, 28, both under contract for next season, it would stand to reason that the pass rush should be good yet again, especially with Adams set to return and Taylor making his pro debut. The issue there, though, is that it’s unclear whether or not the Seahawks will be able to keep both Dunlap and Reed for next season even though they’ve each got one more year on their contract. Here’s why that’s the case.

Money talks

Both Reed and Dunlap had great finishes to 2020 in terms of production, and it’s not surprising that each are paid handsomely for their play.

Dunlap, per Spotrac, is due to make a total of $14.1 million in 2021 thanks mostly to a $10.1 million base salary and a $3.5 million roster bonus.

Reed, meanwhile, is set to earn $13.5 million with a $8.075 million base salary, a $425,000 roster bonus and $5 million from a signing bonus.

In most years, that wouldn’t likely be an issue. The problem here is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the salary cap is almost certainly going down for 2021.

In 2020, the salary cap was $198.2 million per club. In 2021, the salary cap is expected to be roughly $180 million, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.

OverTheCap has the Seahawks with just under $3 million in available cap space entering the 2021 offseason, and key players like running back Chris Carson, linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerback Shaquill Griffin hitting free agency, star players like Jamal Adams looking for long-term contract extensions, and the additional salary that will be added with draft picks, keeping both Reed and Dunlap may be out of the cards.

Something to keep in mind if the Seahawks were looking to cut one of Reed or Dunlap is that Reed is owed $5 million guaranteed from his signing bonus this year. Dunlap, meanwhile, has no guarantees on his contract, so he could be cut with the Seahawks owing him no money.

Odd man out?

Both Reed and Dunlap were very productive for the Seahawks last year.

In addition to his 6.5 sacks, Reed had 14 QB hits, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while playing in all 16 games. He also had two sacks in the Seahawks’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Dunlap did miss one game with a foot injury but his impact in just eight games was huge for Seattle, as he had six tackles for loss, 13 QB hits and two pass deflections along with his five sacks.

Obviously those two play different positions, but the Seahawks’ defensive turnaround started with Dunlap’s arrival and he plays what’s seen as a more premium position than Reed does.

Plus, the Seahawks’ history of drafts and signings between defensive ends and defensive tackles is pretty staggering.

Reed, a 2016 second-round pick, is one of just five defensive tackles that the Seahawks have drafted in the fourth round or higher since Pete Carroll and John Schneider came to town in 2010. Additionally, he is one of just 11 defensive tackles the Seahawks drafted in that span, and two of those were converted to offensive lineman.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have drafted 12 defensive ends in that span, including two in the first round, spent money on free agents like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and traded for Clowney and Chris Clemons.

Recent history also shows that the Seahawks like using their money elsewhere.

Reed commanded a big salary, but the Seahawks used four other defensive tackles in 2020. Three of them – Poona Ford, Bryan Mone and Anthony Rush – are recent undrafted free agents, while the other, former All-Pro Damon “Snacks” Harrison, initially joined Seattle’s practice squad as a veteran-minimum signing.

Additionally, the Seahawks have used bigger defensive ends like L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green as defensive tackles on passing downs, and Ford emerged as a more complete guy in 2020 with two sacks, nine QB hits and eight tackles for loss while making big plays in the run game.

The issue then comes down to Reed’s $5 million in guaranteed money.

Other options for the two?

The Seahawks would likely prefer to keep both Reed and Dunlap, but with the cap going down, as mentioned, it will be tough.

Dunlap is likely more valuable both to the Seahawks and the rest of the league as a capable edge rusher, but with no guaranteed money compared to Reed’s $5 million, he’s a more attractive option to be cut.

If the Seahawks want to keep both, they could do some maneuvering through new extensions.

By signing one or both Reed and Dunlap to new deals that run further in the future than 2021, the Seahawks could shift money around to later years to help with the decreased salary cap in 2021, especially as the cap likely will go up again starting in 2022.

If the Seahawks don’t want to do that, or either or both of Reed and Dunlap would rather test the open market after 2021, there’s always the possibility of a trade.

Given that they each have one year left on their deals at over $10 million, Reed is a defensive tackle and Dunlap is 32, neither would fetch much on the trade market. The Seahawks traded a backup guard and a seventh-round pick for Dunlap, but that was also largely as he and the Bengals were basically looking to end that marriage. Dunlap probably has more value than a seventh-round pick again, but both he and Reed would likely be worth a Day 3 draft pick (rounds 4-7) to move. That could be enticing for a team that currently has just four picks in the 2021 draft.

Sum it up

Both Reed and Dunlap would be great to have on the Seahawks’ roster in 2021, but the odds seem to be stacked against that happening. While Dunlap would be easier to move on from, his value is higher than that of Reed, who has the $5 million guarantee.

The Seahawks will likely try and keep both, but they’ll find it hard to make that happen. If it becomes clear that it’s not in the cards to keep both in Seattle, expect Schneider to start hitting up other teams in trade talks, starting with Reed, especially as history shows Seattle can find cheaper ways to get production from the interior of the defensive line.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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