Carlos Dunlap II knew as soon as he became a Seahawk last season that he very well could become a free agent this offseason, despite having a contract that ran through 2021.
When the Seahawks acquired the veteran pass-rusher in a trade with the Bengals midway through last season, he agreed to restructure his contract with the understanding that he likely wouldn't play out the final year of the deal he had signed with Cincinnati in 2018. Either he and the Seahawks would agree to a new long-term deal, or he would be released and get a chance to test free agency.
And sure enough, the Seahawks, who like so many teams were facing a salary cap crunch this offseason due to a reduced cap for 2021, released Dunlap last month. Dunlap didn't take offense to the move, in no small part because of how transparent the Seahawks had been about the process from Day 1. And because of that up-front transparency, as well as his experiences in half a season with the Seahawks, the veteran defensive end was thrilled to re-sign with the team that released him after spending a couple of weeks as a free agent.
"The Seahawks, obviously, they were very transparent, and that's something that I appreciated from Day 1," Dunlap said. "Coming in, when we were doing the signing in the trade, they let me know that this would be a potential move in the (offseason), and then when it actually happened, yeah, it still hit different, because I'd never been cut before, but they were still very transparent. They wanted me to know that they wanted me back, and just that this was one of the moves they had to make because of the situation they were in, cap-wise.
"I came back because of the culture, the transparency with the organization. And I believe that our season was cut short—and I say cut short, because I feel like we had full ability and capabilities of going much further than we did, but it was cut short because we didn't perform—I welcome the challenge of starting from Day1, Game 1, and trying to get back to where we were and going further."
Asked to elaborate on that culture he likes in Seattle, Dunlap noted that his friends and family could see in his press conferences how happy he was during his few months as a Seahawks, telling him, "how happy I looked, how happy it seemed like I was… I think that just speaks to the culture itself. It's a very fun working environment. (Pete Carroll), he gets to know everybody, he encourages and celebrates everyone's individualism, as well as creating a team program and competing at the highest level. That's something I value, it's one of my core values, always competing."
Dunlap has said multiple times since arriving in Seattle that a couple of his biggest career goals are reaching 100 career sacks—he's 12.5 away—and reaching the Super Bowl, and his chance to pursue those goals on a contending team that is also a good fit in terms of culture made returning to Seattle an easy choice once the two sides started talking about a new deal.
"A lot of teams showed interest, but only the true competitors really actually made offers," he said. "But Seattle was where I wanted to be, so when the offer came to Seattle, I can tell you this, the deal was done within 24 hours from when they offered me to me signing. And now the rest is history."
Dunlap said during his brief free agency he was in touch with a number of players like fellow defensive standouts Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, but also with quarterback Russell Wilson. Like everyone else with a TV or an internet connection, Dunlap heard the rumors about Wilson's future, so he wanted to check in with Wilson to make sure that if he re-signed, they'd be chasing championships together.
"I did ask him obviously if 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. "And the rest of the team, I want to pick up where we left off. And he told me he's with us and he's here to stay, and he said, 'Let's go Hawks!'"
In Dunlap's half of a season with the Seahawks, he had 5.0 sacks and 14 quarterback hits, and he was a big part of a defensive turnaround that saw the Seahawks go from being statistically one of the worst defenses in the NFL in the first half of the season to one of the league's best in the second half. Now he's eager to see what he and his teammates can do in a full season together.
"It was such a small sample of games that I got an opportunity to play in, and you were able to see what we were able to do and accomplish," he said. "I feel like if we can get that from Day 1 with the offseason program, being in OTAs, being in meetings, learning the culture, I just feel like the sky's the limit. I feel like we were able to accomplish some great things last season in such a short period of time, and I just want to be able to build on that. I wanted an opportunity to build on that, so I'm grateful I get an opportunity to do that."