Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have said multiple times this offseason that they hope to keep as many of their free agents on board as possible. Those two have also acknowledged the fact that keeping everyone is not realistic given the constraints of the NFL's salary cap. And not long after the new league year began Wednesday, the Seahawks indeed lost one of their top free agents, with linebacker Bruce Irvin leaving to join the Oakland Raiders. In Oakland, Irvin will reunite with his former position coach, Ken Norton Jr., who is now the Raiders defensive coordinator, as well as former teammate Malcolm Smith, who signed with Oakland last offseason in free agency.
Irvin, Seattle's first pick in a 2012 draft class that has played a big role in the team's recent success, had 22 sacks, 131 tackles, three interceptions and four forced fumbles in four seasons with Seattle. More significant than those stats, Irvin evolved during his career from being a situational pass-rusher to a versatile strongside linebacker who could still play end, turning himself into a nearly every-down player. That growth and versatility helped Seattle's defense be one of the best in the NFL in recent years, but it also made Irvin a hot commodity on the free-agent market. As was the case last year when the Seahawks lost cornerback Byron Maxwell to Philadelphia in free agency, they hoped to keep Irvin, but also realized the best deal for him might come from another team.
"I love Bruce and I loved Byron," Schneider said at last month's NFL scouting combine. "I'm sure you get tired of me talking about it but it really, truly is a big puzzle that we have to work through. I have met with Bruce individually, and he knows how we feel about him as an organization and he knows that we are either going to be able to make it work or give him a big hug and congratulate him. That's just the way this league is right now. There's no question it's built on parity, and the more players you acquire, the more players you are going to lose at a certain point. We would love to have all of our guys back, unfortunately we are not going to be able to have all of them back. We have to set up a pecking order based on what the landscape looks like in the draft and free agency.'"
Throughout the season when his pending free agency would come up, Irvin always made a point to express his gratitude to Carroll and Schneider for taking a chance on him and said the Seahawks would hold a special place in his heart regardless of how things worked out in free agency.
"I understand the business side of it, and if I happen to be somewhere else, I will always have a genuine appreciation for John and Pete for sticking their neck out there and taking me when everybody said I was a reach and had a lot of baggage that comes with me," Irvin said after Seattle's season ended with a playoff loss at Carolina. "No matter what people said, they still made a decision to take me with pick 15. I understand the business side of it; you can't keep everybody. I will always love these guys. It's hard, but it's bigger than football. We'll always have a relationship, they'll always be my brothers."