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Signing Cliff Avril addresses defensive priority
The dust had barely settled from one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, but coach Pete Carroll already was thinking about what he needed to make the Seahawks even better in 2013.
The primary object of Carroll’s desire during his season-ender news conference was a player to help increase the pass rush, and that player arrived on Thursday when Cliff Avril was signed to a multi-year contract – two days after receiver/returner/runner Percy Harvin was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings to address the biggest offseason need on offense.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Avril had 39.5 sacks the past five seasons with the Detroit Lions, who made him their franchise player last offseason after he posted a career-high 11 sacks in 2011. Avril played under the tag last season, when he had 9.5 sacks, but became an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday.
Avril was expected to be one of the hottest commodities when the free-agency period began. CBSSports.com ranked him at No. 3 in its Top 100, while NFL.com had him at No. 6 in its Top 85, offering “He’s the most naturally gifted pass rushers among those still in their prime.”
That’s exactly what Carroll was looking for, and general manager John Schneider was able to deliver Avril by acting quickly and decisively.
The Seahawks also made moves to bolster their pass rush last year, signing rush-tackle Jason Jones in free agency and selecting rush-end Bruce Irvin in the first round of the NFL Draft. Irvin led all rookies with eight sacks, but the defense produced only three more sacks last season (36) than it did in 2011. And Wednesday, Jones signed with the Lions in free agency.
The need intensified after sack leader Chris Clemons tore a ligament in his left knee during the wild-card playoff victory over the Washington Redskins. Clemons has 33.5 sacks in his first three seasons as the Leo end in Carroll’s defense that this season will be coordinated by Dan Quinn – the team’s D-line coach in 2010 who returns after two seasons as the coordinator at the University of Florida to replace Gus Bradley, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So if Clemons isn’t ready when training camp opens in late July, Avril will be. When Clemons returns, the defense will have even more options in Carroll’s quest to improve the pass rush.
“We need to improve our guys, we need another pass rusher. We really do,” Carroll said the day after the Seahawks’ 2012 season ended with a two-point loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs. “We’re going to need a couple of guys.”
Avril is one of them, and a big one.
After entering the league in 2008 as a third-round draft choice, Avril produced a career-best 41 tackles in 2009. The past three seasons, he has averaged 9.7 sacks. He also has forced 16 fumbles, including six in 2011. Since 2008, he is tied for seventh in the league in forced fumbles. Since 2010, he is tied for 14th in sacks (29).
Avril also has scored twice – once on an interception return, once on a fumble recovery.
Now, it’s the Seahawks who have scored by landing Avril.
As Dan Hanzus at NFL.com put it, “This is your classic case of the rich getting richer. The Seahawks arguably had football’s best defense last season, and now they add the top edge rusher on the open market.”