Here’s a sample of what was written when Washington traded cornerback Quinton Dunbar to the Seattle Seahawks for just a fifth-round pick in March:
“Extension or no extension, this is an easy win for the Seahawks,” ESPN wrote, giving Washington a D+ for the move.
“It makes zero sense,” Walter Football wrote.
“Couldn’t they have gotten a fourth-round pick?” Fansided asked.
Washington’s decision to move on from Dunbar, coming off a breakout season, was widely panned at the time. Back then, Washington coach Ron Rivera justified the trade by explaining that the team wasn’t prepared to give Dunbar, in the last year of his contract, an extension right away and obliged Dunbar’s trade request rather than have the situation worsen.
Rivera frequently referenced that, in his first year with Washington, he needed players to buy in — and would get rid of the ones who didn’t.
Despite the criticism then, Rivera’s decision looks wise in retrospect. As Washington and Seattle prepare to meet Sunday, Dunbar hasn’t sustained the high level of play that he displayed in 2019. According to Pro Football Focus, Dunbar has given up more catches (30) and yards (381) than he did last year — despite appearing in only six games this season.
Dunbar hasn’t been able to stay healthy — a common knock throughout his career and perhaps the main reason why Washington didn’t receive more compensation for the 28-year-old. Dating back to 2018, Dunbar has been available for just 24 of 45 possible games.
After missing the last five games with a knee injury, Dunbar is on track to make his return Sunday, when Washington hosts Seattle.
Washington’s pass defense, meanwhile, has vastly improved from a year ago. The unit ranks second overall in passing defense DVOA, a Football Outsiders stat that measures efficiency, and third in passing yards allowed. Starting cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby were free agent additions who have helped solidify the secondary.
“I’m happy for Quinton because he’s found a situation he likes that he’s happy with,” Rivera said Thursday. “I like our football team.”
Who knows if Washington, in the midst of a four-game winning streak, would be in the same place if Dunbar had stayed. Would the cornerback’s attitude have dragged the team down? Then again, perhaps there’s a scenario in which Dunbar’s height (6-foot-3) and vision are perfect fits for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system.
Rivera didn’t expand on much when asked about Dunbar on Thursday. But he has referred to situations in the past of having to get rid of players for the greater good. On Monday, he recalled how in Carolina, he asked general manager Dave Gettleman in 2014 to cut several veterans who he felt were impeding the development of younger players. Gettleman did so, and the Panthers won their last four games to clinch the NFC South at 7-8-1.
Washington, too, got lucky in not having to deal with Dunbar’s tumultuous offseason. In May, Dunbar was arrested with former Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker for an alleged armed robbery at a house party in Florida. Those charges were eventually dropped, but the case would have nonetheless been a distraction for Rivera.
After trading Dunbar, Washington opted to sign Darby to a one-year, $4 million contract. Darby, an oft-injured corner who was previously with Philadelphia, has been able to stay healthy this season. And despite being one of the most targeted corners in the NFL — opposing quarterbacks have thrown his way 77 times, seventh-most across the league — Darby’s reception percentage (57.1) is his best since 2017.
Fuller, who was signed two weeks before Dunbar’s trade, has emerged as Washington’s No. 1 corner. Fuller’s four interceptions matches Dunbar’s total from last year and he’s done well playing primarily on the outside. Fuller was signed for his versatility, but has played less in the slot than expected.
“In both cases we acquired guys that fit what we were wanting to do,” Del Rio said.
That fit helped Washington move on from Dunbar.