RENTON — The decision Cliff Avril ultimately faced was whether he’d be comfortable accepting a shorter deal with the Seattle Seahawks for the chance to play with a rising club that will likely go into next season as a Super Bowl contender.
Instead of letting his free agency drag on and seeing what else might be out there on the market, Avril jumped at what he felt was his best opportunity
“As far as for me, I had an opportunity to come out here and the opportunity presented itself and I had to jump on it,” Avril said. “Once again, it’s a winning team, they have a bunch of great players, young players on their team that seem to love the game and I want to be part of it.”
Avril and the Seahawks finalized their two-year contract on Thursday, adding another needed pass rusher along their defensive line and shoring up what coach Pete Carroll had said was Seattle’s biggest offseason need.
Instead of waiting for the draft, the Seahawks decided it would be free agency where they made their first moves to address that concern.
“He’s been very productive as an edge player so we’re really excited to add him in,” Carroll said. “He’s got definite pass rush ability as a featured rusher, he’s played linebacker in his past and done a lot of dropping over the years, so he gives us a real flexible athlete we can fit in in a number of different ways.”
In Avril, Seattle gets a long, lanky speed rusher who has double-digit sack potential. He’s the kind of speed end that Carroll loves, hoping to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. But Avril comes with the added flexibility of being able to drop into coverage because of his history playing linebacker in college. Those skills make him a player Carroll can’t wait to get his hands on and develop schemes to maximize his talent.
“I don’t feel like you can have enough speed pass rushers on your club,” Carroll said.
Avril also provides protection, as Seattle is still unsure of the status of defensive end Chris Clemons due to a torn ACL in his left knee suffered against Washington in the playoffs. Carroll said Clemons still hopes to be back by the start of the regular season, but the team will be cautious and not play him until he’s fully healthy.
Seattle finished the regular season with 36 sacks, tied for 18th in the league. Eight of those sacks came in one game early in the season against Green Bay, and the Seahawks had just eight sacks over the final six weeks of the regular season.
Avril had 9½ sacks last season, but the best of his five years with Detroit came in 2011. Avril had 11 sacks — good for seventh in the NFC — along with six forced fumbles and an interception. He’s started all 16 games in each of the past two seasons.
Avril’s new deal is reportedly for $15 million and comes on the heels of Seattle making a big splash earlier this week when the Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin from Minnesota in exchange for three draft picks. Oddly enough, the only player Avril says he really knows on his new team is Harvin.
“I chose Seattle because I like what I’ve seen on defense, I like what I’ve seen as a team,” Avril said. “I played against them last year also so I knew what they had a bunch of young guys that seem to love the game of football and that goes out and plays hard. I got the opportunity and I took it.”
While two years might seem like a short deal for one of the top pass rushers on the market and less lucrative than most expected, it was a contract length that worked for both sides. Avril will be just 28 when the contract expires and its short length gives Seattle the flexibility it desires with some key components of its rising young team on the verge of free agency in the coming seasons.
“It was really a combination of things. Cliff feels like he has a lot to prove. He’s a very hungry guy right now,” Seattle general manager John Schneider said. “So in terms of his market value he saw this as an ideal situation for him in the future and for us moving forward.”
Avril said he feels the Seahawks system will give him a chance to become a well-rounded defensive end and another opportunity at a better deal in a couple of seasons.
“I think it gives me a chance to fill out the position and get a good feel for it, and the following year, dominate it hopefully,” Avril said. “We’ll see where we are at that point.”