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Carlos Dunlap's instant impact puts Jadeveon Clowney in Seahawks' rearview mirror

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Wagner: Win vs. Cardinals was a step in the right direction for Seahawks' D (2:21)

Bobby Wagner joins Scott Van Pelt to discuss Seattle's defense securing a win over Arizona. (2:21)

SEATTLE -- Carlos Dunlap wore a smile for most of his postgame video conference Thursday, just as he had every other time he's spoken with reporters since joining the Seattle Seahawks last month.

He laughed at his own joke, wished one of his new defensive line mates a happy birthday and marveled at how coach Pete Carroll almost tackled him in excitement earlier in the night.

Dunlap even did a dance while demonstrating how to celebrate a safety when asked about the one the Seahawks recorded in their 28-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

"This is a whole different environment, man," Dunlap said. "The culture here is very lovely, and it's contagious."

Safe to say Dunlap is happy to have landed in Seattle after an unpleasant ending to his time with the Cincinnati Bengals.

And it's safe to say the Seahawks are just as happy to have finally filled their need for a top-flight edge player by trading for Dunlap as opposed to doing what a vocal segment of observers implored them all offseason to do -- pay whatever it would take to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney.

Dunlap had two sacks Thursday night, the second of which sealed Seattle's win as Arizona was driving for a potential tying touchdown in the final minute. That gives him 3.5 sacks in three games with the Seahawks, which is a half-sack more than Clowney had over 13 games with the Seattle last season. It's 3.5 more than Clowney has in eight games this season with the Tennessee Titans, who put him on IR because of a knee injury.

Clowney signed a one-year, $13 million deal with Tennessee right before the season began, ending a strange saga in which one of this year's top free agents sat on the market all offseason. The Seahawks offered him more than that in March, but it was well short of the $21 million a source told ESPN Clowney was seeking at the start of free agency.

The Seahawks wanted to re-sign Clowney. They knew how he could impact games -- and on occasion take them over -- much more than his low sack totals suggest. They loved how well his personality fit into their culture and appreciated how he played hurt. But they were wary of paying too much for a player who has been more of a disruptive defender than a productive one throughout his career and who has a history of knee injuries, among other ailments.

No one can know for sure how Clowney's season would be playing out if he were in Seattle. But the way it's gone for him in Tennessee has validated the Seahawks' hard limit on what they would pay to bring him back.

Not that Seattle's pass rush was any good early in the season without him. The Seahawks thought they could get by with a combination of Bruce Irvin, Benson Mayowa, several lesser-known players plus a lot of blitzing from strong safety Jamal Adams.

But that plan quickly went awry. Irvin's season ended in Week 2. Mayowa, Adams and Rasheem Green missed several weeks apiece. Second-round pick Darrell Taylor has yet to come off NFI, something the Seahawks thought would happen months ago.

They were actually on pace through six games for four fewer sacks than the 28 they managed last season, which was tied for second-fewest in the NFL. That prompted their Oct. 28 trade for Dunlap, which has breathed life into the Seahawks' pass rush. Their 13 sacks over the last three weeks are tied for the most in the NFL. That's thanks in part to a significant uptick in blitzing but also because they finally have a legitimate threat off the edge.

Better late than never.

And better Dunlap than Clowney.

His seven QB hits and five tackles for loss in three games with Seattle are also more than Clowney has (six and four, respectively) in eight games with Tennessee.

What's more, Seattle is only paying Dunlap $2 million this season as a result of a contract restructure he agreed to in order to make the trade work. The Seahawks, who are barely below the NFL's salary cap, gave Cincinnati a seventh-round pick and included backup center B.J. Finney in what amounted to a salary dump.

They'll have a decision to make on Dunlap in March. As part of his restructure, the Seahawks added a $3 million roster bonus that's due on the fifth day of the league year. Barring an extension or another restructure, paying that bonus would effectively mean committing to keeping Dunlap for the final year of his contract at a cap charge of $14.1 million. That's a steep price for a 32-year-old defender, especially with the potential for the salary cap to drop significantly.

But at this rate, Dunlap's production and the impact he's had on Seattle's defense could justify it.

"He's really ... been a boost," Carroll said Thursday night. "We've had a lot of sacks in the last three or four weeks now and that's changing things ... He really helps us and we desperately needed him. The first week he barely knew what was going on. Week 2 he's getting it going and he really is comfortable now and fits right in, and it was really thrilling to see him come up with a game-winner like that."