By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks have made another major move, this time addressing their most pressing need with one of the best free agents on the market.
Defensive end Cliff Avril has agreed to terms with the Seahawks and was en route to Seattle Wednesday afternoon to sign the deal, according to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil. Avril’s deal is reportedly for two years and $15 million, a bargain considering the premium that pass rushers typically command.
The Seahawks have not confirmed the agreement, which was first reported by the NFL Network.
It comes a day after Seattle traded for multi-skilled wide receiver Percy Harvin. For all of Harvin’s versatility, though, rushing the passer isn’t part of his repertoire. So while giving up three draft picks and signing Harvin to a deal reportedly worth $67 million over six years qualified as a major splash, it didn’t do much to strengthen the Seahawks at the position that needed the most fortifying.
Cliff Avril has 39.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2008. (AP)
The addition of Avril gives the Seahawks a young and productive pass rusher entering his prime. Avril, who turns 27 next month, has 39.5 sacks during five NFL seasons, including 29 over the past three. His resume also includes 16 forced fumbles in 73 games. He was a third-round pick by the Lions out of Purdue in 2008.
The Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense last season despite an inconsistent pass rush that generated 36 sacks during the regular season. That weakness was underscored in their divisional-round loss to Atlanta, when the Seahawks failed to bring down Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan once.
“We’d like to be able to put more pressure on the quarterback – I don’t think there’s any secret about that,” general manager John Schneider told Jim Moore and Danny O’Neil Tuesday.
Further necessitating an offseason move was the ACL injury Chris Clemons sustained during the wild-card round. Clemons, the team’s sack leader in each of the past three seasons, might not be ready by the start of next season. Combine that with the departure of Jason Jones – who agreed to terms with the Lions Wednesday – as well as questions about Bruce Irvin’s readiness for an every-down role, and the Seahawks were certain to do something.
They kicked the tires on big names like John Abraham and Cullen Jenkins, reportedly bringing each in for a visit. Fellow veterans Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora were also available. But while the Seahawks had a glaring need, several options and money to spend, they weren’t going to act out of desperation.
“You’ve got to be careful in free agency, and you have to be able to have a level of interest and be able to stick to that level, and be able to walk away from deals,” Schneider said Tuesday. “We try to pride ourselves on being able to do that and not just kinda give into the excitement of adding the player and taking care of what may be perceived as a need and just checking it off a list so you can just get in bed and sleep well at night.”
That disciplined approach paid off. The Seahawks get a proven and young pass rusher at a very reasonable rate, and the two-year timeframe means they’ll have more flexibility when it comes time to pony up for stars like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
Avril’s reported $7.5 million annual average is significantly less than the $10.6 million he made last season while playing under the franchise tag, and it’s less than what he was believed to be seeking from the Lions on a long-term deal. Reports say he turned down Detroit’s three-year, $30 million offer last year.
Avril is two months younger and has 24 more career sacks than Paul Kruger, who signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Browns Tuesday. That deal has an annual average of $8 million.
Perhaps Avril opted for a shorter deal and a slightly smaller average because he felt the Seahawks provided the best opportunity to increase his market value and hit free agency again at 28.
That was Jones’ thinking a year ago. He signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Seattle after four underwhelming seasons in Tennessee. The Seahawks had added appeal because of their strong secondary and the deafening crowd noise at CenturyLink Field, two factors that in theory give their pass rushers an advantage.
From the Seahawks’ perspective, their commitment to Avril is still significant even if it’s modest by pass-rushers’ standards. Avril’s deal, combined with Harvin’s whopper of a contract, could help explain why the Seahawks parted ways with Pro Bowl kick returner Leon Washington and his seemingly affordable salary.
It’s unclear what role the Seahawks have in mind for Avril. In terms of size, at least, he fits the specs of what they prefer in a “leo” defensive end. Avril is listed at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds. That’s almost the exact same size as Clemons, who has filled that role the last three seasons.