Rams coach Jeff Fisher discussed the reasons for Dunbar's release Wednesday afternoon and acknowledged the possibility of Dunbar's return.
“We haven’t said this is it as far as his future is concerned here,” Fisher said. “But we felt it was in the best interest of the organization right now.”
Asked directly if there was a possibility of Dunbar coming back, Fisher re-iterated the chances of it happening.
“Of course there's a good possibility,” Fisher said. “Anything is possible.”
In light of those comments, it's hard to view Dunbar's release as anything but a business decision. Teams must be salary cap compliant by late Wednesday night and the Rams were up tight against the cap before the Dunbar move.
According to numbers collected by ESPN.com, Dunbar's cap number this year was scheduled to come in just north of $1.9 million with the realistic chance (before the suspension) of easily obtainable bonuses that could have stretched the number to $2.3 million. A total of $500,000 of that money is rolled over from signing bonus and would count against the cap anyway. That would mean a savings of around $1.4 million but if you remove the quarter season worth of salary he would've lost for the suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing substance policy would reduce that to around $1 million.
Head spinning from numbers yet? Mine too. But here's the easy bottom line explanation. By releasing Dunbar now, the Rams can be cap-compliant tonight and it gives them the opportunity to bring him back after week one on a non-guaranteed contract. The suspension clock begins this week whether Dunbar is with a team or not. Week 5 is still the scheduled return date for Dunbar no matter what team he is on.
Theoretically, the Rams could bring him back next week on a non-guaranteed deal at a reduced rate, place him back on the reserve/suspended list and would then have him back in time for Week 5. They could also bring him back closer to the Oct. 6 game against Jacksonville when he'd again be eligible to play.
Dunbar's departure came under somewhat odd circumstances but Fisher shot down any speculation that something other than the best interest of the team (read: the cap savings) occurred to lead to the move.
"There was nothing," Fisher said. "He and I discussed it, we shared it with you guys, we got it put behind us with the club and his teammates were concerned there was no other issue. It was just a decision we had to make."
In the meantime, Fisher and the Rams are just fine with veteran Will Witherspoon stepping into his place.
"Spoon has done a great job since he's been here," Fisher said. "He's been a consistent, productive player every place he's been. Obviously we brought Will in here with the knowledge that Jo-Lonn was not going to be available."
No matter if Witherspoon holds the role all year or Dunbar returns or someone else steps in, the player in that role will likely be on the field just two downs anyway. James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree seem poised to hold down the nickel linebacker jobs.
So for now, we wait and see if Dunbar returns but there's no question that the door is open.