Carlos Dunlap was a revelation for the Seahawks last year, acquiring him from the Bengals near the trade deadline for a seventh-round draft pick and center B.J. Finney. From that point forward, the veteran posted 5.0 sacks and revitalized a Seattle pass rushing unit starved for production.
Heading into the offseason with a $14 million salary cap hit in 2021, however, Dunlap was released by the Seahawks and explored the free agent market for a little over two weeks. But the team's intentions were never to truly part ways; only to take a step back, reassess the situation and hopefully be able to reunite at a lower dollar figure. That's exactly what happened as Dunlap returned on a two-year, $16.6 million contract in late March, headlining an impressive rebuild of Seattle's group of edges, which included the return of Benson Mayowa and arrival of Kerry Hyder Jr.
The unit lived up to the offseason hype in the team's Week 1 victory over the Colts, pressuring quarterback Carson Wentz a whopping 25 times with four sacks. Every active Seahawks defensive lineman aside from Al Woods recorded a pressure in the game, with Dunlap and Mayowa tied atop the list with four apiece.
But despite sacking Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill thrice last week, the Seahawks struggled to put forth a proper encore performance. While they still managed to record a pressure once every three dropbacks (16 of 48 in total), their disruption was nowhere near as impactful as it was in Indianapolis. Aside from Alton Robinson's strip-sack of Tannehill deep in Tennessee territory, Seattle failed to truly dominate its opponent's weakened left-side protection and Dunlap was partially responsible.
With the Titans missing both left tackle Taylor Lewan and eventually left guard Rodger Saffold, Dunlap was primed to feast like he and his teammates did the week prior against Colts backup tackle Julie'n Davenport. But instead, he didn't even record a single stat in the final box score, putting up goose eggs across the board in 26 snaps—14 less than he had in Indianapolis. Interestingly enough, the Seahawks lined up Dunlap at LEO defensive end just 12 times on the day, shifting him to the right side for the same amount of plays.
Looking to get back on the horse, Dunlap and company are set to face yet another struggling left tackle this Sunday: Rashod Hill of the Vikings. Through the first two weeks of the season, Hill has already been credited with five pressures allowed—two against the Bengals and three versus the Cardinals.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been sacked four times this year, but only two have been credited to Minnesota's offensive line. It's a solid unit that's particularly better on the right side, so it would behoove the Seahawks to allow their presumed top pass rusher to hammer the Vikings' weakness on the left side.
Seattle needs Dunlap to be effective in order to sustain a healthy, lively pass rush this season. He has to be the lifeblood of the unit—a constant that keeps things afloat, especially in the mismatches they've had to start the year. He cannot disappear as he did against the Titans; he's too expensive and important for that.