Dunlap saw on social media and via text messages that Atkins had signed and hoped his would soon follow. He had said during training camp it seemed a deal was close.
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“Unbelievable experience for me,” Dunlap said, sitting beside Atkins in the press conference. “I woke up knowing there were rumors Geno was really close to being done. I didn’t know we were going to be able to get mine done the same day. I knew they were going to be able to shift the focus to trying to get mine done. It worked out. We got it done the same day and here we are. Now we get to just focus on football. Focus on building it better like coach says and getting to that Super Bowl and getting that first playoff win. All these things that the city and us all want together.”
Dunlap, 29, is a two-time Pro Bowler who has 244 career tackles, including 64.5 sacks. He was taken in the second round (54th overall) of the 2010 draft coming out of the University of Florida, followed by Atkins in the fourth round (120th overall) out of the University of Georgia. Widely considered one of the top interior linemen in the league, Atkins, 30, has 290 career tackles, including 61 sacks, and has been to the Pro Bowl six times.
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They rank 1-2 on the Bengals’ all-time sacks list and have combined for 58.0 sacks (29.0 each) the last three seasons, which is the most of any duo in the NFL.
“For me, it’s been an unbelievable experience,” Dunlap said of playing alongside Atkins. “I can’t name too many top-end rushers who have a dominant presence like Geno inside. He don’t say a lot as you know, but he plays big. He lets that speak for himself.”
Atkins said he didn’t have any doubts a deal would be done.
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The two players have proven their value with the Bengals over the past eight years, and Cincinnati is an organization that Dunlap says remains faithful to its draft picks, so long as they produce. Atkins’ $16.3 million yearly average with the new deal is the highest signed by a 30-year-old non-quarterback in NFL history.
“I was not really on my mind,” Atkins said of wanting to get a deal done before the season. “I wanted to get something done. I’m trying to finish my career here. But obviously, it was business as usual.”
“I think both sides wanted to get the deal done,” he added. “It was more just kind of being patient, just keeping it business at usual honestly. I really didn’t have any doubt. I thought we were always going to get something done.”
Their extensions — combining for more than $110 million — are a substantial investment for a team that also will have A.J. Green approaching free agency in 2020 and Andy Dalton in 2021.
The money isn’t the motivation for either player, Dunlap said.
“Personally for us, having a goal, having a daily plan, having team goals, personal goals, all of those things put everything else in line,” Dunlap said. “… The market value is what the market value is and the NFL is going to be an international sport, and as you see, the cap keeps going up because of it.”
When asked why it was so important to stay in Cincinnati, rather than test the market elsewhere, Atkins said he and Dunlap both feel a since of loyalty to the Bengals.
“They were the team that drafted me,” Atkins said. “I love it here. I love the city. I love the organization. It’s something to cement my legacy here, and I think that’s important to finish where I started. We’ve got unfinished business, this whole team, and me and ‘Los are trying to bring a Super Bowl to Cincinnati.”