ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — In an NFL career entering its 13th season, Carlos Dunlap had been a free agent for all of 22 days until this offseason. Two contract extensions with Cincinnati and a trade to Seattle meant he never reached free agency until 2021 when the Seahawks released him in a salary-cap move on March 8 and resigned him March 30.
This offseason he tried things differently. When the Seahawks released Dunlap on March 18, he wanted to take his time.
“I wanted to make sure I made an educated decision and went with the team where there was mutual interest in my ability to play, how I would be used, and the opportunity to win,” Dunlap said.
After a courtship lasting nearly three months, Dunlap chose the Chiefs.
“Great opportunity with a great organization,” Dunlap said. “What they’ve done the last few years, playing against them on the other side of the ball, I wanted to add my specialties to it, and it felt like we had mutual interest.”
The Chiefs extend their initial contract offer to Dunlap in May. The club missed out on other defensive line targets in free agency but landed George Karlaftis in the first round of the NFL Draft. General manager Brett Veach still coveted a veteran edge rusher, and Dunlap quickly moved to the top of the list.
Negotiations heated up once training camp started. Dunlap traveled to St. Joseph to visit the club on July 27 and by the next morning agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth up to $8 million.
“I try to average eight (sacks) per year,” Dunlap said. “I want to go for more than that obviously, and I put my money where my mouth is with the deal we did, structured it that way for incentives to increase it.”
It wasn’t only the financial opportunity the Chiefs presented, however. Despite turning 33 in February, Dunlap doesn’t want to be a role player or situational pass rusher. He wants to be an every-down lineman after playing just 38% of the defensive snaps with the Seahawks last season.
“At this point in my career, because I’ve been a closer in so many games and have 96 sacks in my career, they try to correlate with being older taking down your snaps, featuring you in passing situations,” Dunlap said. “But I like to eat whatever you put on the table.”
To Dunlap, first and second down are just as important as third down.
“Obviously I’ve done many things on third down, closed many games on third down, but I feel if you impact the game early on first and second down, you can put the game away even sooner,” he expanded. “Clearly these guys have lit up the scoreboard a million and one times before my contributing my strengths to what they already do well here.”
Dunlap didn’t do much in Thursday’s 10-10-10 practice other than meet his new teammates and launch himself into the acclimation process. He started studying the defensive installs Wednesday night — “I got two or three of them in yesterday,” he said. On Thursday afternoon Dunlap planned to meet with defensive line coach Joe Cullen and study the material he’s missed during the offseason program and the first full week of training camp.
While Dunlap has expectations for how much he will play, his exact role remains undetermined. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo loves Dunlap’s length — he measures 6-foot-6, 285 pounds with arms 34 5/8 inches long — “I always thought that was nice to have inside or outside because I think that’s tough for quarterbacks,” Spagnuolo said. Ultimately he wants Dunlap to get comfortable at one position first before expanding his portfolio.
“It’s really going to be us figuring out he can do, where to put him in, there’s a lot of that going on right now,” Spagnuolo said.
The one thing he knows Dunlap can do — “He knows how to get to the quarterback.” That’s something the Chiefs struggled to do last season, ranking 30th in the league with 31 sacks and finishing next-to-last in sack percentage, dropping the quarterback on only 4.71% of dropbacks.
“Sometimes that’s just innate,” Spagnuolo said “I always say 70% of pass rush is want-to.”
Dunlap himself doesn’t yet have any first impressions of Spagnuolo’s scheme and where he best fits. “You should ask me in a couple of days because I’m still learning the defense.”
He does know, however, why he’s in Kansas City and what he wants to accomplish in 2022.
“Because at this point I’ve done a lot of football,” he said. “One of the things I haven’t got over 100 sacks, I haven’t won a playoff game, and I haven’t clearly won a Super Bowl. Those are things that I would like to do at this point in my career, and I’m in hot pursuit. This team gives me a great opportunity, the best opportunity to do it.”