There is a lot of smoke swirling around Carlos Dunlap, with more and more insiders thinking the Seahawks will “fire” him due to his $14 million cap hit.
It wouldn’t be an advisable move, unless John Schneider had a sure plan to replace one ace pass rusher with another. The GM can’t stumble blindly along like he has the past two years, waiting until some disgruntled star becomes available in a cheap trade and adjusts his salary for Seattle. It’s not a sustainable strategy.
If the Hawks cut Dunlap, they MUST find another top pass rusher — BEFORE the season this time. It would become their No. 1 roster need — ahead of center, corner, running back or any other spot. And if Schneider let that position drift in the wind again, it would be just as detrimental to the defense as it was the last two years.
So, what can Schneider do if he cuts Dunlap?
A bunch of pass rushers are slated to be free agents, so there should be a few good options. Schneider should be looking for a veteran he can sign for at least two or three years – a move that could help the salary cap numbers in 2021 and secure that No. 1 pass rush role.
Schneider won’t pay top dollar – he never does. So, you can rule out any of last year’s top sack guys – Trey Hendrickson (13.5), Haason Reddick (12.5), Leonard Floyd (10.5), Romeo Okwara (10) – and other top rushers such as Shaq Barrett, Bud Dupree, Matthew Judon (Seattle reportedly showed interest last year) and Yannick Ngakoue (Schneider had two chances to trade for him in 2020).
Based on his track record at this position, Schneider probably would go with a short-term budget veteran, while pinning his hopes on 2020 second-round redshirt Darrell Taylor living up to his lofty draft status (we’ll believe it when we see it).
Benson Mayowa offered good value for Seattle, with six sacks at $3 million. It’s easy to see him back in a rotational role again. But the Hawks clearly need a No. 1 pass rusher.
Ryan Kerrigan and Melvin Ingram could be Seattle-style options. Both are over 30 but should still offer some good pass rush.
Kerrigan, the longtime Washington star, was relegated to backup there as WFT built a new line with first-rounders the past few years. He had 5.5 sacks in that part-time role in 2020; as a starter, he surely could bump that total back closer to double digits.
Ingram, who has spent all nine seasons with the Chargers, is coming off a seven-game season where he had no sacks, thanks largely to a sprained knee that cost him the nine other games. In the three previous seasons, he averaged eight sacks and about 17 QB hits.
Both Kerrigan, 33, and Ingram, 31, could be the kind of cheap additions Schneider likes – coming in under $8 million.
Schneider also could go after Aldon Smith again; a bitter Jerry Jones refused to trade him last season. Smith, 31, had five sacks in his first season since 2015 – addiction problems forced him to miss four years under league suspension. He would be a big gamble for that reason – but also a cheap rotational addition.
The Seahawks didn’t show much interest in Everson Griffen last season, but he finished in the top 10 in sacks per snap while making $6 million with Dallas and Detroit.
Frankly, Schneider’s best move would be to work out something with Dunlap. Some think he wouldn’t garner more than $7 million in free agency. If so, Schneider should offer him a two-year extension averaging $8 million or $9 million. That could free $10 million in cap space, and the Hawks wouldn’t be obligated to keep him beyond 2021 if his play somehow fell off.
One thing is obvious: The Hawks will make some kind of move with Dunlap’s contract.
If they choose not to extend or trade any other players, they still could free up cap space by converting salary to bonuses for Russell Wilson (unless they are considering trading him) and Bobby Wagner. That could allow them to perhaps sign Packers All-Pro center Corey Linsley, re-sign K.J. Wright, add Mike Davis as the No. 1-2 running back and keep Quinton Dunbar on a cheap prove-it deal.
And they still could add Kerrigan or Ingram or Smith to the pass rush. You can never have too many good pass rushers. Just ask the 2013 Seahawks, who had Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Or the 2015-17 Seahawks, who had Avril, Bennett and Frank Clark. The Hawks need to stack up at that position again.
All of that said, the best we probably can hope for is that Schneider will make sure he has one standout pass rusher – Dunlap or his replacement.