Trade for DE Dunlap reaping rewards for Seattle Seahawks' improving defense

Carlos Dunlap was just getting acclimated with the Seattle Seahawks his first couple weeks with the team. But his game-clinching sack of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on 4th & 10 last Thursday, in a critical NFC West matchup following a short turn around, punctuated his worth: he’s exactly what the Seahawks hoped he’d be.

With 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits and five tackles for loss in just three games, Dunlap has been the top-flight defensive end Seattle’s pass rush has lacked. He’s unlocked new possibilities for the team’s four-man rush, which struggled generating pressure in the first half of the season.

Dunlap has been the Seahawks’ most productive edge rusher since Frank Clark, who was traded to the Chiefs before the 2019 season.

“He really helps us and we desperately needed him,” coach Pete Carroll said of Dunlap after the Arizona game.

Similar to last year in acquiring free safety Quandre Diggs, the Seahawks got a bargain in trading for the 31-year-old Dunlap midseason. General manager John Schneider shipped off a bad contract in offensive lineman B.J. Finney, who didn’t play a single offensive snap in six appearances with Seattle, and a 2021 seventh-round draft choice for Dunlap. The veteran pass rusher agreed to a restructured deal to fit under the Seahawks’ salary cap.

Instead of paying top-dollar in free agency for a No. 1 defensive end like Jadeveon Clowney, who was with the Seahawks last year, Seattle stumbled upon a bargain investment in Dunlap before the trade deadline.

Some NFL observers criticized Seattle for not making a harder push to sign Clowney (or any pass rusher viewed as top tier), but the team was confident that the value signings of veteran Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, plus drafting Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor in the second round, would make a difference for the pass rush. But Irvin was lost for the year in Week 2 and Taylor has been on the Non-Football Injury List all season.

Then Dunlap became available.

He’s been more productive in three games with the Seahawks than Clowney has been in eight games with the Titans. Placed on Injured Reserve last week, Clowney has no sacks, six QB hits and four tackles for loss for Tennessee so far this year.

“I think you have to give credit to John Schneider and Pete to get a guy like Carlos Dunlap,” quarterback Russell Wilson told reporters Wednesday. “He’s such a superstar. He’s a guy that can really help us. You need those kinds of players, especially in our division. Him coming off the edge is a huge factor. … Just to have a great guy, a great teammate. He’s been awesome in the locker room. He’s obviously been tremendous on the field. He’s such a huge factor to the game. He causes havoc.

“He’s a winner by nature. Maybe he hasn’t won in the past as much, but he’s a true winner by nature.”

The Seahawks in 2020 have leaned on blitzing more so than previous years under Carroll to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But the addition of Dunlap has given Seattle a stronger four-man rush, creating more opportunities for the other defensive linemen and linebackers to make plays. It makes the team’s pass-rush plan less predictable and more effective.

Dunlap’s arrival has reaped rewards for the entire defense, which has been getting a boost in recent weeks with Jamal Adams and other key contributors starting to return to what has been a banged-up lineup for most of the year.

16 of Seattle’s 25 sacks on the year (12th in the NFL) have come in the last four games alone, the second most in the league in that span.

“You have a guy out there that everybody knows is a playmaker,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said Wednesday of Dunlap. “You have to be accountable for, you gotta know where he’s at. He has an ability to affect the play. Obviously, he has an ability to get after quarterbacks, but he’s very,very smart. He picked up the defense really, really fast. You watch him out there on the perimeter plays or effort plays, you just seem him flying around all over the field. Just having another playmaker definitely helps us and we’re grateful to have him.”

Dunlap’s tenure with the Bengals ended unceremoniously after 10 years with the team.  He grew increasingly frustrated over his diminishing role in Cincinnati’s defense, even announcing that his house was for sale in an eventually-deleted tweet before the trade to Seattle.

With the Seahawks, Dunlap has said, he feels refreshed. Rejuvenated. Lighter. The team’s culture, from the front office down to the team, has been “contagious.” He loves the persistent positivity.

And he already lives for the energy of the 12s — even if he hasn’t really experienced yet. In Thursday’s win over Arizona, playing in an empty Lumen Field, he was imagining thousands of screaming fans celebrating with him.

The Seahawks needed Dunlap.

But he needed Seattle, too.

“This is just the start,” Dunlap said Thursday. “I still have a full story to write. I still have to prove a point and show up when called upon. This is something that I personally see myself being able to do for years to come. ... There’s more games to play. You just have to continue to show up. This is what they brought me here for. I’m just happy I can deliver.”

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