Rost: With Dunlap released, where does pass rush land on Seahawks’ offseason priority list?
The Seahawks were in trouble before they released Carlos Dunlap.
That’s not to say they weren’t in good position in the conference. They have returning stars, some promising young talent, and an offensive coordinator who worked under one of the league’s more creative offensive minds. In addition, the NFC in 2020 had been whittled to a handful of surefire contenders, thanks in part to an abysmal NFC East. That will change with the return of Dak Prescott in Dallas, but the potential departure of Drew Brees in New Orleans brings another shakeup in the powers-that-be in the NFC. And even in one of the league’s tougher divisions, the NFC West, the Seahawks still hold an advantage at the most important position: quarterback.
Quarterback isn’t where the troubles started when Seattle’s season ended, but go ahead and add it to a list of ongoing issues Seattle must address this offseason.
It’s not necessarily uncertainty at the quarterback position, but rather uneasiness. Given the $39 million dead cap hit Russell Wilson would leave on the Seahawks’ salary cap if the team were to trade him this offseason, most critics are expecting to see Wilson under center in 2021. But a public complaint from Wilson and his camp – and the silence from the Seahawks’ front office – has left Seattle in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In addition to quarterback issues, the Seahawks were entering free agency with just over $4 million in cap space and only four draft picks. They’ll need to find a way to replace departing starters and, now, make up for the loss of their most productive edge rusher.
So, on the Seahawks’ growing list of needs, where does the pass rush land now that Dunlap is gone?
First things first: Extend Jamal Adams
The Seahawks, like all other teams, will probably wait for the finalized salary cap number before they make any significant moves. But one of the first decisions needs to be about Jamal Adams’ future in Seattle.
Adams is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will carry a $9.6 million cap hit. That’s not an astronomical sum; in fact, it’s quite a bit lower than the league’s top safety salaries, which hover around $14 million. But if the Seahawks don’t extend Adams, they risk him entering free agency after 2021. Losing him by 2022, just two seasons after a trade involving two first-rounders, would be a disaster – and it’s a mistake Seattle can’t afford to make.
If they Seahawks are not going to extend Adams, Seattle can recoup the highest value by trading him before this year’s draft. That doesn’t leave much time. Without Dunlap, a trade of Adams also feels like a suffocating blow for the pass rush.
For details on what that extension could look like, as well as a breakdown of Seattle’s option regarding Adams, check out this column.
Replace Mike Iupati and smooth over issues with Wilson
Whatever your feelings are about Wilson, or the way he voiced his displeasure about taking sacks, a true franchise quarterback is one of the rarest commodities in football. So, if the Seahawks plan on keeping him around, replacing left guard Mike Iupati with a talented veteran addresses a hole on offense and extends an olive branch. (Or at least gives the Seahawks a chance to say they tried.)
Spending on an offensive line addition means making room elsewhere. Releasing Dunlap leaves about $18 million in cap space, but Seattle will probably need more to make significant additions. In an interview with Jake and Stacy last week, NFL analyst Warren Sharp noted that players may be more willing to take cheaper, one-year deals in what’s going to be an unprecedented free agency period.
Sign Dunlap back – or find his replacement
You can’t run from this issue forever.
The release of Dunlap isn’t overly surprising. The 32-year-old pass rusher was carrying a $14 million cap hit with no guaranteed money, making him a prime candidate for a salary cap casualty. His five sacks didn’t lead the team, but his presence was clearly a catalyst for a 180-degree turnaround in production for Seattle’s pass rush last season.
Consider these stats from 710 ESPN Seattle reporter Brandon Gustafson:
The Seahawks had 12 sacks in seven games before Dunlap suited up for Seattle.
-34 in nine games. (Team finished seventh in sacks)
-31 in the eight he appeared in.
-13 in Dunlap's first three games with Seattle.
— Brandon Gustafson (@TheBGustafson) March 8, 2021
There’s always a chance the Seahawks re-sign Dunlap to a cheaper deal, but if he signs elsewhere, bringing back fellow free agent defensive end Benson Mayowa feels like a wise move to add insurance. My “Jake and Stacy” co-host Jake Heaps highlighted a few free agent pass rushers Seattle could target this month (listen to them here).