By Brady Henderson
Cliff Avril is coming to Seattle with the intent of piling up sacks – and it looks like he’s not alone.
The Seahawks announced a two-year deal with Avril on Wednesday and made their new defensive end available to the media just minutes before ProFootballTalk.com reported the team had agreed to terms with another free-agent pass rusher, Michael Bennett of Tampa Bay.
Just like that, the Seahawks had made two significant moves to address one of their only remaining deficiencies, adding a pair young and ascending pass rushers who combined for 18.5 sacks in 2012.
In Avril, the Seahawks get not only a proven pass rusher with the speed and frame that coach Pete Carroll prefers but also a flexible athlete who can be used in multiple ways. Avril played some linebacker in college and at times dropped into coverage during his five seasons with the Lions. Carroll plans to take advantage of that versatility.
“He can do a ton of things,” Carroll said during a conference call. “But what he really does, he comes off that edge and comes roaring after ya.”
Avril has 39.5 sacks since entering the league as a third-round pick out of Purdue in 2008, including 29 over the past three. Avril, 26, thought his combination of production and youth would be attractive enough to score a massive pay day in free agency. He was banking on it, in fact, reportedly rejecting a three-year, $30 million offer from the Lions last year with the idea that another strong season would put him in better position to cash in.
He did his part, finishing with 9.5 sacks in 16 games, only to hit free agency and find a weaker market than he anticipated. Avril had previous interest in Seattle, and the Seahawks used the three-day negotiating window prior to free agency to feel things out. On Wednesday, the second day of free agency, he agreed to a deal with the Seahawks that is reportedly worth as much as $15 million.
“It was a little bit off,” he said of the market compared to his expectations. “But … I had the opportunity to come out here and the opportunity presented itself and I had to jump on it. It’s a winning team that has 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.”
While Avril might have felt like he settled for shorter and less lucrative deal than he had hoped for, his contract with the Seahawks will allow him to hit free agency again when he’s 28, perhaps still young enough to land that elusive jackpot.
“… I think it gives me a chance to feel out the position and get a good feel for it and then the following year probably dominate, hopefully,” he said. “We’ll see where we’re at at that point.”
That length was also ideal for the Seahawks, allowing them to maintain financial flexibility when key players like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas reach the ends of their rookie deals in the next few seasons.
“We have to be careful with our budget and our cash and try to make the best decisions we can moving forward,” general manager John Schneider said. “We have a specific amount of money budgeted for free agency and then the rest is trying to take care of our own.”
Adding Bennett on what is reportedly a one-year, $5 million deal must have carried similar appeal.
Bennett, 27, was considered one of the top pass rushers on the market after posting a career-high nine sacks last season. His 71 quarterback pressures ranked ninth among all defensive players, according to Pro Football Focus.
He was with the Seahawks in 2009 as an undrafted free agent but was waived that season and claimed by the Buccaneers. Bennett, listed at 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds, played some defensive tackle for Tampa Bay.
The role the Seahawks envision for Bennett could be similar to the one filled last season by Jason Jones, a similarly versatile defensive lineman who slid inside in pass-rush situations. Jones left in free agency earlier this week.
Jones had come to Seattle on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. What appealed to him was the edge Seahawks pass rushers have while playing in a uniquely loud stadium. Perhaps that was part of Bennett’s thinking.
It was for Avril.
“We played here a couple years ago when I was in Detroit and the crowd noise is insane here,” he said. “As a defensive player, [especially] a D-lineman, that’s what you want, you want the crowd noise, you want the O-linemen not to be able to hear the snap count so you can get that jump on him.”
Carroll said Avril’s addition doesn’t affect Chris Clemons’ role or standing with the team. Clemons is recovering nicely from a torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs, Carroll said, and thinks he could be ready by the start of next season. The Seahawks will take a cautious approach.
“We are definitely not going to rush Chris in any way. We want to bring him back and not play him until he’s perfectly healthy and ready to go,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t affect him at all. Chris is a premier player for us and we expect him to come roaring back, but … the urgency isn’t such that we rush his rehab.”