Over the course of the offseason, we will explore different players from the 2020 Seahawks roster and evaluate them. We will review their performance from the previous season, what worked, what did not, and then glance at what their future may hold with the Seahawks or perhaps elsewhere.
This week's focus player is defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Seattle traded for Dunlap in the middle of the 2020 season and he made an immediate impact. Although he appears to be a prime cap casualty, they may need him to be the linchpin for the pass rush moving forward.
Dunlap entered the 2020 season as the Bengals' all-time sacks leader after 10 seasons with the organization. Halfway through the year, it was clear the Bengals were not going anywhere and Dunlap was very outspoken about his desire to get out of town. Seattle's pass rush was still anemic and without much juice, with just nine sacks through six games.
Then along came the former Florida Gator.
With a swap of a seventh-round pick and offensive lineman B.J. Finney, Dunlap arrived in Seattle ready to inject life into the pass rush—he did just that. In his first game in a Seahawks uniform against the Bills, he notched 1.5 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss, and six total tackles in the losing effort.
Two weeks later, Dunlap sacked Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray twice, including one on fourth down late in the game to seal the win. Against Washington, Dunlap helped seal yet another win by sacking Dwayne Haskins on third-and-long with one minute left in the game.
In total, the two-time Pro Bowler racked up 5.0 sacks in just eight games (a pace of 10.0 sacks over a full season). Despite just playing in just half of Seattle's games, he was fourth on the squad in QB pressures with 18 and tied with Bobby Wagner for the team lead with eight quarterback knockdowns.
After Dunlap's arrival, the defense improved immensely. When he wasn't sacking the quarterback, he was requiring more attention from the opposing blockers, which freed up opportunities for the likes of Jarran Reed, Poona Ford, Benson Mayowa, and company to wreak havoc in the backfield.
Needless to say, Dunlap was a most welcome addition to the defense in October. Seattle likely does not turn around its historically-bad defense without his veteran presence and production.
Quite simply, Dunlap is under contract for one more season and is owed upwards of $14 million against the cap in 2021.
In case you haven't heard, Seattle is on one of its biggest salary cap crunches in recent memory. According to OverTheCap.com, they currently have just under $4 million in free cap space. That may not even be enough to cover the signing of their upcoming draft class.
Cutting Dunlap would free up another $14 million to spend elsewhere, such as on the offensive line. That is certainly a tempting proposition.
However, Seattle may be hesitant to cut loose their best pass rushing defensive lineman from last season. They just barely fixed their pass rush and cutting Dunlap runs the risk of putting them right back in a similar purgatory.
Unfortunately, freeing up $14 million might be too good to pass up in this situation. The Seahawks will bank on 2020 second-round selection Darrell Taylor being healthy after he missed the entirety of his rookie year with an injury. Alton Robinson came on as a quality option for a fifth-round pick while L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green remain on the squad as well.
Seattle would be rolling the dice on those younger guys stepping up if they were to cut Dunlap. If the 32-year old remains on the roster for 2021, he will be expected to produce at a high level once again. Retaining Dunlap and adding him to the fold of exciting young pass rushers next year would give Seattle peace of mind and opposing quarterbacks nightmares.