The way Carlos Dunlap sees it, he left the Bengals Wednesday without a position but with a decade of memories he remembers fondly and well.
"I'm just grateful for every single thing Cincinnati has done for me, my career, my family and helping me to grow, supporting me to grow along the way," said Dunlap Wednesday afternoon as the Bengals practiced without him in the wake of the trade to Seattle.
"Now I'm looking forward to new challenges and however the Seahawks are going to use me."
After a whirlwind two weeks of Dunlap publicly frustrated with his reduced role in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's scheme, he wanted to keep his departure positive.
As he made plans to fly to Seattle, the Bengals finalized the trade that put him on the plane in exchange for back-up center B.J. Finney and a seventh-round pick.
A popular figure in the community, one of the recent Bengals' nominees for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and a staple on the Bengals defense since his rookie year of 2010, Dunlap wished the Bengals well in a defense built more like a 3-4 than the 4-3 in which he had piled up enough sacks to come within one sack of Eddie Edwards' franchise record of 83.5.
"I think the Bengals are in good hands with these young players. They have a good blend of young and medium vets," Dunlap said. "I wish them well executing their vision. I'm on to pursuing my goals with a team that thinks I can help them in their vision."
Dunlap said he had a brief, but intense conversation with head coach Pete Carroll just before he took the Seahawks out to practice. Carroll runs more like a 4-3 that the Bengals ran in Dunlap's heyday, where he would line up as an edge rusher on all three downs and where his 6-6 wingspan deflected 38 passes in the previous four seasons to lead all front seven players in the league.
As Anarumo evolved the new look last season, Dunlap had nine sacks to lead the team for a fifth time. After the 3-4 looks were emphasized during the offseason, Dunlap didn't get his only sack of the season until the fifth game, was reduced to a third-down role during the season and played just 12 snaps in his final Bengals game last Sunday against Cleveland.
For Dunlap, no hard feelings. Just a matter of fit.
"(Anarumo) is executing what he wants for his defense. As you saw, I had 12 plays last game and (five) of them were in the last minute of the game. That's not where I feel like I am in my career," Dunlap said.
It was clear from their conversation that Carroll remembered what Dunlap did to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in the Bengals' 27-24 overtime victory at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 11, 2015, when he had 1.5 sacks, six tackles and six quarterback hits.
"He was fired up. The team is fired up," Dunlap said. "They would like me to come in and compete and do what I do best. (Carroll) said he's got a plan for me. He said, 'I think you'll like it." They're going to play me in a defense I've played my whole life. He said, 'We've had some battles when we've played each other. I want that type of person on my team.'"
But Dunlap said he leaves with great respect for the conversations he's had with Bengals president Mike Brown, a guy he never hesitated visiting in his office. And he knows he leaves 10 key years of his life here.
He was involved in a number of community endeavors, such as Back-to-School events and his anti-bullying campaign. One of the more popular outings was his annual spa day for breast cancer survivors. A photo of Dunlap getting a manicure and pedicure with the ladies was always sure to be a hit.
"It's not just the Bengals that I'm grateful to, but the city of Cincinnati," Dunlap said. They were very welcoming. I bought my first home here. I was barely 21 when I first came here. I pretty much had a lot of growing pains here, more great times than bad times. It's been a journey. It's been a battle. It's been as test. It's been fun. I'm grateful or the experiences."
Safety Jessie Bates III is grateful Dunlap was around when he broke in during the 2018 season.
"I think the biggest thing Carlos has taught me is learn from other guys. Obviously, Carlos has been in the league for a long time," Bates said. "He's a really good player. He's taught me a lot. More than just football. Off the field, just knowing the city of Cincinnati and knowing the business of the NFL. I have nothing but good things to say about Carlos. I know things didn't work out for him here at the end, but I'm sure he'll have a lot of success in Seattle. May God be with him."
Dunlap looks at Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and he thinks they have something going.
"He's definitely a baller. He knows how to get it to his ballers," Dunlap said. "I think he's surrounded as well. We just have to break through and clean up what we have to clean up."
He is officially a Seahawk. But he was also a "We," as one of the best Bengals ever had a plane to catch.