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Free-agent DE Carlos Dunlap waiting out market, ready to help contender in 2023

Carlos Dunlap has seen the football mountaintop. He wouldn't mind getting another look before he's done playing.

As the NFL calendar enters its sleepy summertime period ahead of the start of training camp, Dunlap remains without a team. Much like he did at this time a year ago before signing with the Chiefs, and after recently receiving his Super Bowl LVII ring alongside his former Kansas City teammates, he's waiting to see whether a return tour is in his future.

"I can help another team get one of their own or help the Chiefs again," Dunlap told Forbes. "The Chiefs haven't ruled that out, but currently it's a waiting game."

Up until 2022, the story of Dunlap's career largely centered on frustration. He knew he'd performed well enough to be part of a championship-winning defense, but also encountered the many disappointments shared by the 2010s Bengals teams that frequently faltered in the initial round of the postseason. Dunlap's exasperation contributed to Cincinnati's decision to trade him to Seattle in 2020, but he'd joined that franchise too late to experience the ride Seahawks fans enjoyed in the same decade.

Kansas City provided Dunlap with a different opportunity. He wouldn't have to hope the team would live up to its potential, nor would he be a veteran added out of a desperate attempt to remain competitive. He could find his fit with the Chiefs and produce.

Dunlap's role evolved throughout the 2022 season as the Chiefs turned toward a situational rotation, capitalizing on the presence of the veteran Dunlap and rookie George Karlaftis. Dunlap only started in two games -- the same total of starts posted in 2021 in Seattle -- but still played 537 snaps, recording 39 tackles, four sacks, eight passes defensed and one forced fumble.

He also helped the Chiefs take down his old team, the Bengals, in the AFC Championship Game.

"The Chiefs obviously have a special spot for me because they were the first team to help me win a playoff game and to win a Super Bowl," Dunlap said. "So that would be a great opportunity."

There are two sides to the Dunlap coin at this stage of his career. He's willing to take a lesser role in exchange for a place on a team with serious hopes of winning. He's also coming off a season in which he posted a career-low total in sacks and averaged his lowest QB pressure rate in the last seven seasons, per Next Gen Stats.

The end of the road may arrive soon.

"I'm a free agent, and I feel great, and I still love the game," he said. "I'm a realist."

Still, Dunlap doesn't necessarily sound as if he's ready to walk away. That could change if he remains unemployed through the 2023 season. But if 2022 was any indication, there's still a chance he signs somewhere -- and when the time comes, he'll plan on returning to Cincinnati for his official retirement.

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