The Bengals may be beginning the process of moving away from their all-time sack leader. For the first time since the 2012 season, Carlos Dunlap did not start. Cincinnati used younger defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson as its first-stringers in Baltimore, playing Dunlap on a season-low 46% of the defensive snaps. Dunlap, who signed an extension to stay in Cincinnati in 2018, said the Bengals did not inform him directly about a demotion ahead of the game but merely listed his new non-starter status on an updated depth chart.
“That’s crazy, right? I mean, you would think common decency would be something like that,” Dunlap said (via ESPN.com’s Ben Baby) of the coaching staff not discussing his new role beforehand. “I mean, it’s not like I’m injured or anything. I’m not nursing anything. I’ve been blessed. Eleven years in the game. But I understand business, and evidently, this is the business they want to do.”
Dunlap now looms as a 2021 cap casualty. The Bengals would save $11.25MM by cutting him next year, and Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic (subscription required) expects a release to commence. He could be a trade chip this year, with the rebuilding Bengals sitting last in a stacked division. Dunlap, 31, is due more than $5MM in remaining 2020 base salary. Dunlap’s 82.5 sacks are seven more than anyone else has accumulated in Bengals history, but Pro Football Focus rates both Lawson and Hubbard above him through five games.
Here is the latest from the AFC North:
- Dunlap will not be the only longtime Bengal out of the picture next year. The team spending $18MM-plus to tag A.J. Green has not worked out, and John Ross has been a healthy scratch the past three weeks. Perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins made his season debut last week, but Dehner notes in the same piece the $9.6MM the team could save by moving on him puts that on the table. Atkins’ 75.5 sacks are second in Bengals history, holding that spot by more than 25 sacks. A fellow 11th-year vet, Atkins signed an extension along with Dunlap in 2018. Two years remain on his deal, whereas 2021 would be a Dunlap contract year.
- On the subject of big-picture separations, the Steelers will have a decision to make fairly soon. They appear to have unearthed their latest Day 2 wide receiver success story, with Chase Claypool dominating the Eagles in a four-touchdown performance. With Claypool signed through 2023 and both Diontae Johnson and James Washington signed beyond this season, JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s future with the team could be cloudy. The Steelers should be expected to let the former Pro Bowler walk in free agency, per Ed Bouchette of The Athletic. Art Rooney II was vague on this subject this offseason. Ahead of the curve at identifying receiver talent, the Steelers have only signed Hines Ward and Antonio Brown to notable extensions in the Ben Roethlisberger era. Smith-Schuster is averaging just 9.0 yards per catch this season (21/188). That said, his 1,400-yard 2018 season would make the 23-year-old slot receiver a hot commodity on the 2021 market.
- Although injured reserve stays only require three-week absences this season, the Bengals are not planning on having one of their starting O-linemen back soon. Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo is not expected to return until after Cincinnati’s Week 9 bye. Zac Taylor said the veteran blocker may be out beyond that point, per Dehner (on Twitter). The Bengals signed Su’a-Filo this offseason and used him as a Week 1 starter but placed him on IR because of an injured ankle soon after.
- Prior to the Ravens promoting center Trystan Colon-Castillo, multiple teams expressed interest in poaching him from Baltimore’s practice squad, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic tweets. The Ravens signed the University of Missouri product as a UDFA this year; they made him a game-day inactive in Week 5.