Seahawks wanted Cliff Avril, and pass-rusher wanted them

Posted Mar 14, 2013

When the Seahawks went looking for a pass-rusher in free agency, they found one who wanted them as much as they wanted him – Cliff Avril, who had 39.5 sacks the past five seasons with the Lions.

Cliff Avril had other options in free agency, but none were as attractive as signing with the Seahawks. Conversely, the Seahawks also could have gone after other defensive ends in the ongoing quest to improve their pass rush. But each fell short of what Avril provides.

So Avril signing with the Seahawks, which he did on Thursday, just made too much sense on too many levels.

“Oh man, they’ve got a great team – a great young team, guys that look like they want to compete,” said Avril, who produced 39.5 sacks the past five seasons while playing with the Detroit Lions, including 20.5 the past two seasons. “They’re winning, and I definitely feel like I fit in. And it gives me a chance to get after the quarterback.”

Avril will turn 27 in a few weeks, and has the length, speed and athletic ability that coach Pete Carroll covets. So fit in he definitely does.

But where does he fit? Stay tuned and tune in, as Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn devise ways to blend Avril’s talents with those of Leo end Chris Clemons, who has 33.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the Seahawks; and rush-end Bruce Irvin, who led all rookies with eight sacks last season after being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Carroll said all three will play in nickel defense that is used in obvious passing situations, but was less specific when it came to just what Avril would do and from where in the base defense. Rather than diminish the roles of Clemons and Irvin, as was widely speculated after Avril agreed to sign with the Seahawks, Carroll said Avril’s presence will enhance and complement what the incumbent pass-rushers provide.

“He’s got definite pass-rush ability as a featured rusher,” Carroll said of the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Avril. “He also has played linebacker in the past and done a lot of dropping over the years, so he gives us a real flexible athlete that we can fit in in a number of different ways.”

One way that Avril fits is that he has been rushing from the left side the past two seasons, when he had a career-high 11 sacks in 2011 and 9.5 last season. Clemons has been featured on the right side, and he’s also coming off surgery to repair the ligament he tore in his left knee during the wild-card playoff victory over the Washington Redskins in January.

“Primarily rushing off the left side is a unique thing,” general manager John Schneider said.

And it requires the unique skills Carroll looks for, which Schneider rattled through in regards to Avril: speed, length, good hands, flexible hips.

“So he can come at you underneath, outside,” Schneider said. “He’s got real nice change-of-direction skills and abilities. And a very nice ability to work his way back to the quarterback once he gets up field, like to better speed rushers are able to do.”

As for Avril, he’s up for anything and everything now that he’s where he wanted to be when free agency began on Tuesday. He played some linebacker at Purdue. He also dropped into coverage earlier in his career with the Lions, who selected him in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft and were so enamored with his play that they named him their franchise player in 2011.

“I kind of want to think of myself as being an athlete,” Avril said. “So I feel like I can do whatever they ask me to do. If I’m asked to drop here and there, I definitely feel like I can do it. And I definitely feel like I can rush. So whatever’s needed, I’m definitely down for it.”

Another plus: Avril already knows Percy Harvin, the receiver/returner/runner who was acquired Tuesday in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. They live near each other during the offseason in Jacksonville, Fla.

“He’s a great guy, great guy,” Avril said of Harvin, his former NFC North rival and now a teammate. “I’ve been playing against him for the last three or four years and in the offseason we usually see each other all the time. So he’s a pretty good guy – real chilled; laid back; hard worker, obviously.”

Three days into free agency, Schneider and his staff have pulled off deals to address the team’s two most pressing needs heading into the offseason.   

“It’s gone well, there’s no question,” Schneider said. “Really, it’s more of a blessing than anything. It’s just trying to be prepared and see what happens.”

Carroll can’t wait to see what will happen to a defense that generated 36 sacks last season now that Avril is part of a new-look pass rush.

“We love getting guy like this. This is a fantastic get for us in that regard,” Carroll said. “I just don’t feel like you can have enough speed pass-rushers on your club. So this opportunity is a great one for us.”

And Avril loves being the guy that the Seahawks targeted and then were able to sign.

“I had an opportunity to come out here, and I had to jump on it,” he 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 a part of it.”