Why Seahawks DE Cliff Avril might be hard to ignore in 2016
Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril is accustomed to being asked about his teammate and “brother” Michael Bennett. Bennett is outspoken and rakes up sacks. Avril’s contributions, meanwhile, don’t tend to pop off the stat sheet, though he arguably follows his assignment and commands the opposition’s respect as well as anyone on the team.
Avril told “Brock and Salk” Monday that while he plans to continue his on-the-field steadiness, off the field, like Bennett, he plans to finally make his voice heard about the issues of the day.
“Some guys should definitely speak up, including myself,” he said. “But nobody talks to me. “
Avril, a third-round pick in 2008, has 61.5 sacks over his eight-year career, including nine in 2015 to go along with a career-high 31 tackles. He ranked seventh in the NFL with 31 hurries, according to sportingcharts.com. That’s five more than J.J. Watt and seven more than Bennett, the next Seahawk on the list. He’s been a model of consistency, having missed only one game in the past five seasons, but has never been invited to the Pro Bowl.
While Bennett has made headlines and is often peppered with questions about his desire for a raise on the four-year, $28.5 million contract he signed in 2013 that ties for 29th among NFL defensive linemen. Avril, who signed a deal for the same duration and salary as Bennett in 2014, has not made a public peep about his contract.
Mike Salk asked Avril why he’s among the athletes who seem to get ignored by the media and the national conversation.
“I don’t know. I think they pick who they want to talk to,” he said. “I think they pick and choose who they want to make superstars in this league, honestly, which is perfectly fine. It is what it is. I don’t look for the media; I don’t look for the spotlight. I think the biggest compliment, personally, is getting respect from your peers.”
Avril is prominent in the community, most notably with the Cliff Avril Family First Foundation that focuses on increasing awareness of Type-2 diabetes in youth and encouraging healthy living through nutrition and exercise. He was also appeared on an episode of “Celebrity Family Feud” last month, with the prize money going to charity. But that kind of work doesn’t earn the attention of Pro Bowl voters.
Avril told “Brock and Salk” that his wife has suggested that he go on a rant to the media to garner some attention.
“That’s not me, though, honestly,” Avril said. “That’s not me to go out there and bash people or to go out there and just do something crazy. I’m just here to play football and make a living and take care of my family.”
Still, Avril said that as he and Bennett worked out for 10 days in Hawaii this offseason, they spoke every day about being more vocal on social and political issues. Avril said he agrees “1,000 percent” with Bennett’s take on athletes having a responsibility to speak up. Avril said he, Bennett, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Doug Baldwin recently discussed their roles and current-event issues for more than an hour. They even discussed videotaping their conversation, Avril said.
“It’s not necessarily our job, but I think we should because of where we come from,” said Avril, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla. “Most of us come from nothing, most of us come from these neighborhoods. … I think it’s very important for us to reach back out and voice our opinion on some of these things that are going on in the world because a lot of kids do look up to us; a lot of people are listening to us. And we are a brand. If we just understood that and understood how much power we had as athletes, we should take advantage of that. But guys are just looking at the money. “
Avril said he understands the more neutral social perspective, much like Michael Jordan during his playing days.
“Some guys don’t feel like that’s their obligation, and I can understand that,” Avril said. “Some guys don’t want to voice their opinion, some guys just don’t want to lose money. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about people here and I think we value money too much sometimes in these situations.”
Brock Huard jumped on the other side of the argument, asking whether it’s smart for athletes – many of whom may not be fully informed on social and political issues – to speak out.
“That’s a problem in itself. Why aren’t you informed?” Avril replied. “Football is just a game. It takes up a lot of your time but you have a long offseason … We’re playing a game for a living. There are people out here that are dying for no reason. That’s very important and there’s something that should be said about it.”
Sharing on-the-field wisdom
Avril is only 30 years old but finds himself as one of the Seahawks’ elder statesmen. And with that comes the responsibility of being the old man that the youngsters sometimes overlook.
After Chris Clemons’ retirement and the loss of long-time DT Brandon Mebane to free agency, Avril is the longest-tenured player on a defensive line that includes talented big bodies such as second-year DT Frank Clark and rookies Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson. He says all the rookies will need to grow up fast and that he tries to impart wisdom like, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” and the importance of stacking good practices on top of each other, rather than inconsistent splashy days. They sometimes roll their eyes.
“They are hard-headed,” he said of his young teammates. “I tell them all the time, ‘Look, if I wanted to talk to people who didn’t want to listen to me, I’d talk to my kids. I’m just here to help.’ Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t.”
Avril says Clark has improved from last season, primarily from the standpoint of better understanding the game and his role on the defense. He expects Reed will likely follow a similar path.
“Coming from Alabama, that’s like a little semi-pro team, for sure,” Avril said. “He’s a big boy. He can play some ball, man, but again, it’s nothing like the NFL. I don’t care how great they may be in college, once you get out there on that football field, guys aren’t just fast and explosive, guys are smart. And that’s what guys have to pick up the fastest – the mental part.”