The Minnesota Vikings were bystanders on Monday as another defensive lineman hit the free-agent wire. This time it was a defensive end in Carlos Dunlap, who underwent a divorce from the Seattle Seahawks. The move will save Seattle oodles of coveted 2021 cap space.
On the move, ESPN’s Brady Henderson wrote:
“The move clears $14.1 million in badly needed cap space but leaves the Seahawks without their most accomplished edge rusher and two-time Pro Bowl selection. The team is expected to attempt to re-sign Dunlap at a discounted rate once he tests the market. Dunlap, who turned 32 in February, was scheduled to count $14.1 million against the cap in the final year of his contract, which had no remaining guaranteed money. That cap charge included a $3 million bonus he would have earned had he remained on Seattle’s roster by March 21.”
There is a belief that the Seahawks would enjoy re-hosting Dunlap in 2021 – but at a significantly reduced price. It is unclear if that will appeal to the 32-year-old Dunlap.
For the Vikings, the franchise signed Stephen Weatherly last week presumably to vie for playing time with Ifeadi Odenigbo and D.J. Wonnum.
Head coach Mike Zimmer hopes to have left defensive end, Danielle Hunter, 100 percent healthy in 2021. Hunter missed the entire pandemic season with a serious neck injury.
Minnesota’s pass rush suffered immensely without Hunter and nose tackle Michael Pierce – to the tune of worst in the NFL per Pro Football Focus.
A Dunlap-to-Vikings rumor makes much more sense than the drove of offseason hearsay nuggets floating on any given March day. Why? Because Dunlap experienced his formative years with Zimmer as his defensive coordinator.
54 Games with Zimmer
Dunlap busted into the league from the University of Florida in 2010 via 2nd-Round pick. He was a “project” for Zimmer during 2010-2012, but when he got going – he was off to the races. Dunlap began habitually starting games in 2013, Zimmer’s final season with Cincinnati before taking the big job in Minnesota.
All told, Dunlap paired with Zimmer for 54 games, the most profitable section of that tenure hitting in year-four of Dunlap’s career. During the final season of the Zimmer-Dunlap relationship, the Bengals finished the season 11-5, won the division, and were trounced by the San Diego Chargers, 27-10, in the 2013 AFC Wildcard game. This was the team that defensively showcased Vontaze Burfict, George Iloka, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, Geno Atkins, and PacMan Jones. So, when you hear those names, know that those folks also have “ties to Zimmer.”
The Stats, PFF, Accolades
Dunlap earned Pro Bowl honors in 2015 and 2016. He ranks 12th among all active NFL sack leaders with 87.5. He has a self-professed goal to reach 100 sacks. One profitable season with the Vikings would nudge him toward that mark.
An important note on Dunlap – he is the anti-Yannick Ngakoue in terms of game traits. Ngakoue, a former Viking, is renowned for rushing the passer while effectively doing nothing on the run-stopping side of things. Dunlap isn’t like that. He is a run-defense-first personality. His PFF grade(s) always leans to the side of run defense rather than pass rushing. However, that does not mandate his pass-rush skills are poor – he just stops the run better than pass.
As early as two seasons ago, 2019, Dunlap registered a blistering 89.7 PFF grade. He’s the real deal when offered playing time. Although his PFF score did dip tremendously (60.8) in 2020.
Depressingly, Dunlap has reached the playoffs five times and never exited the contest with a victory. His playoff resume is winless.
A Reunion with Zimmer if Price is Right
Per the standard discussions on the Vikings offseason movement, can the team even afford a player like Dunlap? Probably so on this one.
Names like J.J. Watt or Leonard Williams are outside the realm of financial feasibility – unless shock moves are enacted by the Vikings front office with existing players. But Dunlap likely won’t command double-digit million numbers annually. He’s earned about $70 million in his career and will be in that “prime” territory for a prove-it deal. Think Sheldon Richard for the Vikings in 2018.
Indeed, Vikings enthusiasts will read “this guy to the Vikings” brainstorming for about 10 more days until free agency begins. Just know that this one is a bit more realistic than most because of the Zimmer connection — and the Vikings need for a pass rusher opposite Danielle Hunter.