CINCINNATI -- Carlos Dunlap's decision to skip voluntary workouts this offseason apparently had more to do with a desire to focus on his own preparations than waiting for a new contract.
The Cincinnati Bengals defensive end is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and it's no secret he wants a deal done.
However, Dunlap said his absence until this point was not intended to make a statement regarding his uncertain future with the team.
Dunlap, a nine-year veteran, showed up for two days of organized team activities (OTAs) last week but the start of mandatory minicamp Tuesday marked his first workout day with the squad.
"We're obviously in negotiations, so that's obvious," Dunlap said. "That's been stated by both teams, and we're making great progress, but I just wanted to make sure I was in the best shape for the season, which I feel like I am. And, I just wanted to work one-on-one with my guys down there and make sure I was ready for when I need to be there. I mean, this is Year 9, and it's voluntary (up until now)."
Dunlap would have earned a $300,000 workout bonus but forfeits that money for missing OTAs.
The team has been holding workouts on a voluntary basis since April 16, and Dunlap was the only player not in attendance as OTAs began May 22.
Despite numerous social media posts showing videos and pictures of Dunlap surfing in Costa Rica, riding four-wheelers and doing flips off the side of a boat, the offseason hasn't been a total vacation.
The 29-year-old has been working out with personal trainer Pete Bommarito in Miami, as he has the last nine years, and Dunlap said even while traveling he made sure to get his workouts in wherever he went.
Dunlap also said he remained in constant contact with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who kept him updated on the new defense and what was happening at practices.
"I feel like I am in the best shape, and these next six weeks I'm going to get in even better shape, so I look forward to having a great season and letting everything play out for itself," Dunlap said. "Obviously, everything is out there already. We already know where we're at. They value me here as a team, so that's why we are in talks. Otherwise, we wouldn't be talking at all. So, I'm in a good situation. I just want to make sure I'm prepared on the field."
Lewis called it a "non-issue" when asked about Dunlap's absence at the beginning of OTAs, and Dunlap said he wasn't mad the Bengals didn't immediately work out a new contract for him because "this is the process" and "both sides understand it."
Dunlap, a second-round draft pick out of Florida in 2010, is set to make $7 million this season in the final year of a five-year, $39.4 million extension he signed July 15, 2013.
He said he doesn't have a target date for when he wants a deal done before cutting off negotiations but maintains he wants to finish his career as a Bengal -- and he feels he has "more than a handful" of seasons left in him.
"Cincinnati gave me my first shot," he said. "So, I would love to be here and finish my career here because I feel like I'm working on a legacy. I've been fortunate enough to get the rookie sack record, (a chance at the) career sack record, single-season sack record and I want to build that gap between me and Geno (Atkins).
"I want to stay here and continue to work on that and have that legacy, but at the end of the day, a business is a business. We do have some young players here who are playing some great football. Whatever happens will happen, and we will let that play out for itself. We are just going to prepare to play football."
Always a big presence in the locker room, Dunlap was welcomed back with a crowd of media waiting for him Tuesday morning as he came in from a walk-through on the field.
His teammates were glad to have him back and didn't hold a grudge, according to quarterback Andy Dalton.
"It's good to have him back," Dalton said. "Everybody wanted him here. Everyone is happy he's here, so we'll let the business stuff take care of itself."
Dunlap, who recorded 9.5 sacks as a rookie and had a career-high 13.5 in 2015, knew he was opening himself up for criticism by not showing up while the rest of the team sweated it out on the practice field the last few months, but he still felt misunderstood.
He said the negative light wasn't enough to change his mind about skipping OTAs, though, because he knew his motives.
"All the comments and everything talking about the reasons for me not being here obviously hit home a little bit because they painted me to be a selfish guy, which was not my objective," Dunlap said. "My goal was to make sure I was in the best shape for when football starts so that I can be there for my team for the long haul. And I feel like I'm there. I feel like I accomplished that. And I'm ready for whatever."
Avoiding injury wasn't necessarily a concern, he said, because injuries can happen anytime. Some players trying to negotiate contracts hold out of minicamp even, but Dunlap said it was important to begin getting acclimated to the new defense under coordinator Teryl Austin, who replaced Paul Guenther this offseason.
Austin has kept some of the schemes the same but the terminology has changed and he's put his own twist on things, Dunlap said.
"I felt really good and I wanted to get around the guys and get implemented into the new defense a little bit and meet some of these rooks and show face," Dunlap said. "Minicamp is a short period of time where we get a lot of football done, a lot of core skills done. I've done all the stuff I've wanted to do training wise, and now it's football stuff."
Dunlap said the Bengals plan to use more of a rotation on the defensive line this year, but he hopes his offseason workouts show how ready he is to continue to make a difference. He's second on the Bengals all-time career sack record list with 64.5, chasing Eddie Edwards' 83.5. He said his performance on the field can only help his situation, and the contract negotiations aren't a distraction.
"The guys in the locker room don't talk about it, and my agent only brings me positive news, so it's not weighing on me," he said. "I've got guys in place so that they take on the weight of the back and forth stuff. He just lets me know when we're making progress or if we're not making progress and we'll let that handle itself.
"I'm just going to make sure I'm ready to play football because at the end of the day, that will help push the needle whichever way it goes."