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Seahawks release Carlos Dunlap. They now have cap space to shop--or maybe bring him back

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 3/9/2021 Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Mar. 8—The Seahawks have found much-needed salary-cap space — by cutting a piece they really needed last season.

An NFL source confirmed to The News Tribune Monday morning Seattle is releasing two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The move saves the team $14.07 million against the 2021 salary cap — and it keeps the agreement the Seahawks had with him when they traded with Cincinnati for him in October.

The Seahawks announced Dunlap's release Monday afternoon.

Dunlap, 32, was to be entering the final, non-guaranteed year of the contract the Seahawks inherited from the Bengals. Seattle general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll agreed to let Dunlap shop in free agency this month if they and Dunlap could not agree on a re-worked contract at a better (for the Seahawks) cap charge than the $14 million.

The Seahawks entered this week with $4 million available to spend under the expected salary cap of $180 million. The league has yet to official set the cap limit for each team for 2021. The league year is to begin March 15.

Monday's move allows for the possibility the Seahawks could sign back the pass rusher who revitalized the defense when he began playing for them in the middle of last season, at a more team friendly cap charge for 2021.

Cutting Dunlap also puts the Seahawks in play to potentially sign a top veteran offensive lineman, such as All-Pro center Corey Linsley. Linsley has said he expects to be released soon by the Green Bay Packers for cap reasons.

Signing him would make recently venting franchise quarterback Russell Wilson happy. Wilson stated very publicly last month he wants better pass protection at age 32 after 10 years in the league.

Asked during an online Zoom interview with Seattle reporters recently if he's frustrated with the Seahawks, Wilson said: "I'm frustrated with getting hit too much."

Wilson has been sacked 394 times in his nine years leading Seattle's offense. That's the most in league history over the first nine years of a QB's career.

At the same time Wilson's agent was telling ESPN last month four teams Wilson would accept being traded to if the Seahawks wanted to trade him (which they don't), Linsley was telling Sirius XM radio "looks like all signs are pointing towards snapping the ball somewhere else next year."

Including Linsley, Seattle could have an unusually large market of veteran starters available across the league from which to choose as free agents to replace its own departing linemen. The league's salary cap is dropping from $198.2 million last year to no lower than $180 million this year. That is going to result in teams cutting many veterans who have what are middle-class salaries in the NFL, in the range of $3-8 million per season, to get under the lower cap limit.

Teams expected the league to have set the cap number by now. It could settle around $185 million.

The Seahawks have been tight against the projected 2021 cap since the middle of last season.

Now they have space to shop.

That's the positive to releasing Dunlap.

The negative? They don't have Carlos Dunlap on their defense anymore.

Dunlap had 4-1/2 sacks in his first six games for Seattle beginning in early November. He had two game-ending sacks to clinch Seahawks victories against Arizona and at Washington. After the one at Washington, the 69-year-old Carroll just about tackled his big, tall defensive end to celebrate.

"This is what I'm here to do," Dunlap said after his second winning sack.

In their first seven games without Dunlap last season Seattle was at the bottom of the NFL with 12 sacks. In Dunlap's first seven games with the Seahawks they had 27 sacks. That was supreme value for $1.8 million, the prorated cost of having him for the last nine weeks of 2020.

Seattle finished as a team with the sixth-most sacks in the league last season, up from 31st in 2019. That's a large reason why the Seahawks won the NFC West with a 12-4 record despite Wilson and the offense stagnating against deeper pass coverage the latter half of 2020.

Now Seattle starts over with its pass rush, the team's weakest part entering last season.

Strongside linebacker and third-down rush end Bruce Irvin signed before last season as Jadeveon Clowney was leaving in free agency to sign with Tennessee. But Irvin's Seahawks return season ended in September with a knee injury. Carroll said in January Irvin needed a second surgery this winter. That puts the 33-year-old's 2021 season, and NFL future, in doubt. His contract has expired. He is entering free agency next week.

Clowney, incidentally, is becoming a free agent again. And he is going to be far cheaper than the $13 million he signed for 2020 with the Titans. He had no sacks in eight games with them last year, then had season-ending knee surgery.

The Seahawks have safety Jamal Adams returning after his team-leading 9 1/2 sacks last season, an NFL record for a defensive back. Adams is entering the final year of his contract and is seeking to become the league's highest-paid safety. Tackle Jarran Reed (6 1/2 sacks in 2020) will be entering his second year of his two-year, $23 million deal. End Benson Mayowa (six sacks) is about to enter free agency next week.

Beyond that, 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier (three sacks last season) and impressive 2020 rookie fifth-round pick Alton Robinson (who deserves to play more after four sacks in limited time last year) will return for 2021. Rasheem Green (two sacks last season) is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Tackle Poona Ford (two sacks) is a restricted free agent likely to return.

Darrell Taylor remains an unknown — and a wild card — to Seattle's pass rush. The team's second-round pick last year didn't play in 2020 recovering from a stress fracture and surgery in his lower leg.

Dunlap could return to Seattle after shopping. At his age, players often don't command the price they hoped they would on the open market. And this year's figures to be depressed with a lowered salary cap.

That's what happened with K.J. Wright two years ago. Heading into his 30th birthday with an expired contract in the spring of 2019, the longest-tenured Seahawk briefly shopped in free agency. He didn't find anything he liked. He then signed a two-year contract to return to Seattle, with only the first year guaranteed.

Wright is a free agent again. His chances of returning to the Seahawks for an 11th season in 2021 just went up with the team gaining $14 million in cap room.

A factor complicating Dunlap's possibility to return to Seattle at a lower cost: the deal J.J. Watt signed with Arizona last week. Watt, who turns 32 next month, got $23 million guaranteed on a two-year contract with the Cardinals. Dunlap has been more productive and healthier than the five-time All-Pro rush end the last couple seasons.

Dunlap has 15 sacks in 29 of a possible 32 games played the last two years.

Watt has nine sacks and 24 games played in that span.

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