Sometimes Draft risks end up paying off. It's why some teams just can't stay away from very talented youngsters in the annual NFL festivities, despite their red flags. Because of his contributions on and off-the-field for the Cincinnati Bengals since 2010, few fans readily remember Carlos Dunlap being viewed as a "boom or bust" player by some pundits, who pointed at an inconsistent motor and a 2009 DUI arrest in college as reasons why he fell to the second round.
But despite those supposed red flags, all that has ensued since Dunlap joined the NFL are glowing awards for his off-field efforts, while also becoming the team's career leader in quarterback sacks. Since Dunlap joined the Bengals, he's been an example of what every NFL player should be.
Rewind back to the 2013 offseason though, and the team was at a critical crossroads asking themselves which young and valuable defensive end should they extend long-term? The Bengals initially opted for Michael Johnson, who balked at their offer and headed to Tampa Bay, and then, the team sent over a similar deal to Dunlap, who signed it.
The five-year deal is worth almost $39.4 million in total, with an $8 million signing bonus and just $11.7 million of it guaranteed. It's because of the structuring of the deal, coupled with Dunlap's play since 2013, that ESPN's Mike Sando called Dunlap's deal the most team-friendly one for the Bengals.
Dunlap has three years and $17.6 million remaining on the five-year extension he signed back in 2013. The market for defensive linemen has surged in the interim. Dunlap is 27 years old and coming off a 13.5-sack season.
In terms of on-field value, Dunlap has recorded 29 sacks in the three full seasons since signing the deal. He also hasn't missed a game in the span while becoming a quality all-around lineman, who can play the run and the pass. He also just had his best season in 2015, which culminated in his first Pro Bowl berth.
The numbers behind the scenes also give credence to Sando's point about Dunlap's value. With an average salary of $7,874,000 at the defensive end position, Dunlap ranks 18th among NFL defensive ends in terms of average annual pay. Additionally, the cap hits over the next three years remaining on the deal are all lower than the hit the team took in the second year of the deal in 2014 at $8.6 million. He'll also be just 29-years-old when the deal expires.
This isn't to say Dunlap didn't get a fair deal at the time though, either. Paydays for defensive ends have slowly been climbing every year, and Dunlap was coming off of seasons where he only netted 10.5 sacks combined from 2011-2012.
Again, these types of deals point to the reliability the Bengals' front office has shown in recent years. Aside from inking Dunlap, the team also had mutually-fair deals with Andy Dalton, Vontaze Burfict, Geno Atkins, A.J. Green and George Iloka over the past few offseasons. Oh, and they still managed to get Johnson back after a one-year hiatus on a smaller deal than what was initially offered to him.
Dunlap might not be viewed in the same national light as the league's poster boy, J.J. Watt, but he has become a better player since signing his contract extension in 2013, which can be uncommon. He's also hitting the prime of his career at 27-years-old, so more great seasons should be around the corner for big No. 96. In fact, he's aiming for the NFL sack record this year.