SEATTLE — About two weeks after the Seahawks released Carlos Dunlap, they called him again, this time offering a deal for him to stay.
Dunlap said it took only about 24 hours for the contract to get finalized, in part because he was hoping to remain in Seattle.
What also helped make the decision an easy one is that, by then, Dunlap had gotten assurance from quarterback Russell Wilson that Wilson wasn’t going anywhere.
“I did ask him if, obviously, he was going to be with us, because if I’m coming back, I’m coming back because I see him as my quarterback,” Dunlap said during a Zoom interview with reporters Tuesday. “And the rest of the team, I want to pick up where we left off. And he told me that he’s with us and he’s here to stay and he said, you know, ‘Let’s Go Hawks.’ And I’m not gonna quote his every word, or these words are not his words verbatim. But this is my explanation of how I interpreted what he said.”
And the interpretation was clear: Wilson will be with Seattle in 2021, despite whatever rumors might persist.
That settled, Dunlap agreed to a two-year contract worth up to $13.6 million but structured in a way using three voidable years that his salary cap hit for the 2021 season is just $2.9 million.
Dunlap had been scheduled for a $14.1 million cap hit for 2021 on his old deal, which was the reason the Seahawks cut him on March 8. That contract had been reworked when Dunlap was traded to Seattle by the Bengals last October, with the Seahawks turning $2.59 million in salary into a $3 million bonus for the 2021 season.
Dunlap ended up not receiving that bonus when he was cut and then settled for a contract that will pay him less over two years than he had originally been scheduled to make next year.
But Dunlap, who at age 32 will be entering his 12th season in 2021, said he has no hard feelings and that the Seahawks were up front with him about how things might unfold.
“The Seahawks, they were very transparent and that’s something that I appreciate,” he said. “From Day One coming in when we were doing the signing and the trade they let me know that this would be a potential move in the postseason. And then when it actually happened, yeah, it still hit different because I’ve never been cut before. But they were still very transparent. They wanted me to know that they wanted me back, and just, this was one of the moves they had to make because of the situation they were in cap-wise with the new numbers.”
Indeed, all NFL teams had to make tough calls this offseason with the salary cap dropping to $182.5 million from last year’s $198.2 million due to COVID-19-related losses in leaguewide revenue. An original projection before the pandemic was that the cap in 2021 could have been as high as $210 million.
By October, when Seattle traded for Dunlap, each side knew that the cap was likely to go down and that Dunlap might have to be cut. At that time, Dunlap said he understood he was taking something of a gamble but that he was “betting on myself” that he would earn his 2021 deal with Seattle.
By just about any measure he did, turning in five sacks in eight games with the Seahawks, two in the final seconds to help seal wins against Arizona and Washington. He also helped revive a Seattle defense that went from one of the worst in the NFL in the first half of the season to one of the best in the second.
But the harsh reality of the cap caught up to Dunlap anyway, especially with Seattle needing the cap space created by his release — $11.3 million, as it turned out — to help make moves such as signing free-agent end Kerry Hyder and trade for guard Gabe Jackson.
Dunlap was cut on March 8 with the new league year beginning on March 17. Since he was cut, Dunlap could have signed at any time after he was released by the Seahawks.
Dunlap eventually agreed to re-sign with Seattle on March 25.
Dunlap said the interim period wasn’t nerve-wracking — he knew he’d play somewhere. All the same, he said he hoped to remain with Seattle and that during that period there was no guarantee it would happen.
“After a week passed, a lot of people were signing and a lot of teams were signing their guys, and Seattle didn’t really sign that many guys in the first week, (then) they started signing guys,” Dunlap said. “So I was trying to gauge and feel, and we hadn’t gotten an offer, we hadn’t had strong conversations with Seattle at that point. So we started fielding and entertaining all the other teams that were interested in calling. And then Seattle called, and it was where I wanted to be.”
Dunlap, who spoke from Miami where he is spending the offseason helping run his restaurant, Honey Uninhibited, said after signing he was immediately readmitted to the defensive line’s group chat, and has begun again learning Seattle’s defense on his iPad.
“We were able to get the deal done within 24 hours,” Dunlap said of his desire to stay. “I think that speaks to itself.”