Dunbar has been prepared to sit out organized team activities this spring unless he receives a new deal, but his request to the team Monday evening signals a more hard-line stance.
The Redskins declined to comment.
The 27-year-old Dunbar, who joined the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2015, had a breakout effort in 2019. He emerged as the team’s top cornerback and was ranked the No. 2 cornerback in the NFL by analytics website Pro Football Focus. Dunbar posted a career-high four interceptions in 11 games, but he suffered a hamstring injury and finished the season on injured reserve for the second consecutive year.
If Dunbar suffered another serious injury before he landed a new deal, it would have a significant impact on his bargaining power with either the Redskins or another team. The 20 highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL average at least $10 million per year, with the Miami Dolphins’ Xavien Howard leading the league with an average of $15.05 million. Redskins cornerback Josh Norman is No. 2 at $15 million.
The Redskins have been plagued by major injuries in the past several years, and that seems to be weighing on Dunbar’s mind. Expected starting linebacker Reuben Foster blew out his knee early on the first day of OTAs in 2019 and never played a down. Running back Derrius Guice has gone on injured reserve three times in two seasons because of knee injuries, and quarterback Alex Smith is still attempting to come back from a horrific broken leg suffered in the 2018 season that continues to keep his future in limbo.
The team discovered and developed Dunbar, but a new coaching staff and front office led by Ron Rivera has taken over this offseason. Rivera’s staff must evaluate the cornerback, project how he will fit into a new system and decide on a contract figure. Dunbar seems to have leverage because Norman’s future is in flux after he was benched late in the season. Norman, however, was an all-pro with the Carolina Panthers under Rivera, and a reunion of the two could assuage hard feelings between Norman and the Redskins. The team would save $12.5 million against the cap if the 32-year-old Norman is released before June 1, according to Over the Cap.
Dunbar’s situation adds more uncertainty at the position. Third-year player Fabian Moreau moved into the starting lineup after Norman was removed, and while Jimmy Moreland, Danny Johnson and Greg Stroman are all young, none of those players may be ready to start.
Dunbar was converted from a wide receiver coming out of college at Florida. His size (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) and aggressiveness have drawn comparisons to San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman. Former Redskins defensive backs coach Ray Horton, a defensive coordinator at four other stops, appreciated Dunbar’s cerebral approach to the game and said in October that he had Pro Bowl potential.
“I call some guys like that self-made men,” Horton said, “meaning they honed their skill to get better. Some guys are naturally gifted, come in as a first-round pick, a Patrick Peterson, and just go, ‘Yup, he’s our Day 1 starter.’ [Dunbar] had to work for it. . . . It’s like asking a guy to switch-hit or switch-pitch. They don’t do that very often. . . . He’s got all the skill set that you want. What is he missing? He’s not missing anything. Sustained, continued excellence [is all that’s left].”
The Redskins’ defense was a disappointment in 2019 and finished 27th in points allowed and yards allowed. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said the unit will switch from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 under the new staff.