Clayton: How the Seahawks can get Carlos Dunlap back after his release

Mar 8, 2021, 2:45 PM
Seahawks Carlos Dunlap...
Carlos Dunlap's salary cap number of over $14 million for 2021 was too much for Seattle. (Getty)

The scramble begins for the Seahawks in perhaps their toughest offseason of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era.

Russell Wilson situation has Hawks in unfamiliar, unsettling position

Russell Wilson called out the team to get better on the offensive line days after the Super Bowl. That demand became more important when the Arizona Cardinals signed J.J. Watt, giving Wilson six divisional games against great pass rushers next season.

Then on Monday, the Seahawks cut defensive end Carlos Dunlap, so adding pass rush once again becomes a priority as Dunlap joins Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin as free agents.

Schneider, Seattle’s general manager, will be scrambling to see if he can get Dunlap back on the roster. Clearly the Seahawks couldn’t keep him with a $14,0375 million salary cap number and limited space under a shrinking cap.

As great as Dunlap was in getting five sacks and revitalizing the pass rush in his eight games with Seattle last season after being traded from the Bengals, he’s 32 years old. With the cap expected to be down about $18 million, settling around $180 million, non-quarterbacks in their 30s are going to have to take less. Watt was released from a $16.66 million contract by the Houston Texans. Even though he’s had a Hall of Fame career and has 95.5 sacks since 2012, he had to take less when he joined Arizona.

Watt was the lucky one, though. His salary didn’t drop down as much as others making more than $10 million who will be cut in the next week. He ended up getting a two-year, $28 million deal from the Cardinals.

Dunlap was entering the last year of a contract that was paying him $13.5 million a year. It’s not out of the question for his next contract to drop his average by 50 percent. He will have a decent market, though. According to NFL Analytics, he was one of the best in football with his win rate percentage against offensive linemen last season. He’s been a great pass rusher for a long time, but he has joined the list of the league’s many cap casualties that continues to grow each day.

The one good thing that could help the Seahawks is that Dunlap liked it in Seattle. If they can get him to re-sign, voidable years on a new contract may allow him to come back on a team-friendly cap number. Watt’s two-year contract has three additional voidable years. He got a $12 million signing bonus, and spreading the bonus out for five years allowed his cap number to be only $4.9 million – pretty amazing for a $14 million a year contract.

Cap creativity is important. The Cardinals were able to sign safety Budda Baker for $14.75 million a year, structuring the contract so that his number in this salary-cap tight year is only a little above $3.7 million. That may give the Seahawks the incentive to give safety Jamal Adams around $15 million a year in a contract extension with a cap number below $4 million. He has a fifth-year option on his current deal paying him $9.86 million. That could give the Seahawks the chance to bring back Dunlap, Adams and maybe linebacker K.J. Wright all for less than Dunlap’s former $14.035 million cap number.

This doesn’t apply to Adams, but there are going to be more one-year deals than ever before this NFL offseason. If players have to take less with a tight cap, they are going to get more if they are free agents next year when the cap could go up to maybe $220 million. Dunlap would be wise to get a one-year deal with some voidable years, and the Seahawks need to be the one getting him.

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