Cliff Avril, a prime-time, veteran free-agent pass rusher, is taking a pay cut to come to play for the Seahawks. That’s what’s known as a statement.
As Pete Carroll was talking on a teleconference with reporters Thursday about the signing of free agent pass-rush stud Cliff Avril, the coach’s cell phone ringtone could be heard: “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who.
Carroll didn’t answer. The guess was the caller ID said it was Aaron Curry.
Or maybe Bruce Irvin.
The Seahawks have invested a lot recently trying to get to opponents’ quarterbacks. In 2009, Curry was a first-rounder, fourth pick overall in draft — Seattle’s highest in 12 years – a can’t-miss linebacker counted on to frequently rush the passer. Irvin last year was also a first-rounder, 15th overall, a defensive end whose primary skill was planking the chucker.
The Seahawks also have a veteran of proven skill in the specialty, Chris Clemons, but he’s on the mend after surgery to repair a torn ACL and may not be ready for the season opener.
So in Avril, the Seahawks are making the investment again.
“Can’t have enough speed pass rushers,” Carroll said. But a team can’t afford to pay most of the pass rushers in the NFL, either. Can’t get fooled again.
Curry was one of the great busts in Seahawks draft history, whose most significant sack was figuratively applied to the GM who drafted him, Tim Ruskell, fired in no small part because of personnel mistakes such as Curry.
While Curry was not on the watch of the current GM, John Schneider, Irvin is. Called a foolish reach at 15 by many draftniks, Irvin responded with the most sacks (eight) by a rookie last season.
But he also was slow to develop moves to supplement his speed and was a non-factor in the Seahawks’ biggest game of the season, the second-round playoff game in Atlanta, where Irvin had his first start in place of the injured Clemons.
QB Matt Ryan is still waiting for someone from Seattle to hit him. The sack-free game, as well as the pressure-free final Falcons possession that will be forgotten in Seattle only after global warming brings back dinosaurs, is not all on Irvin. But his game-long invisibility will be.
Irvin “has tons to learn,” said Carroll, but is not being replaced by Avril, he said. Too soon for that. The hire of Avril allows Clemons time for a full recovery and Carroll to “mix the play of these guys to keep them fresh and strong, and really keep the tempo of our pass rush at a peak — that’s real important to us.”
Avril’s arrival from Detroit is nearly as much of a surprise as the trade acquisition a day earlier of Percy Harvin, for whom the Seahawks parted with much treasure. This time, however, Avril was a relative steal — $15 million over two years — because he was a veteran free agent in his prime at 26 who (read this next phrase slowly): Wanted. To. Play. In. Seattle.
Famously described by former Seahawks safety Shawn Springs as “Egypt” for its distance from anything important to American pro athletes (home, good weather, bright lights), Seattle long has been notorious for its inability in any big time team sport to draw premier athletes who have choices.
But not only did Avril choose Seattle, he took a pay cut to do it. The Lions tagged him with the franchise label and paid him $10.6 million last season. There may have been bigger money offers for Avril, but like most everyone else in the NFL, he likes Seattle’s chances in the next couple of years, after which he can re-enter the free agent market.
“I’ll be young still and gives me another chance,” he said by teleconference. “I chose Seattle because I like what I’ve seen on defense, I like what I’ve seen as a team. I played against them last year (the Seahawks blew a 17-7 lead and lost to the Lions 28-24 in Detroit) so I knew what they had — a bunch of young guys that seem to love the game of football and that goes out and plays hard.”
So rather than pay a veteran a premium to come to Seattle, as the Mariners have always had to do, the Seahawks are able to get discounts. Imagine that. But there is an advantage nearly unique to the Clink that had particular appeal to Avril.
“The crowd noise is insane here,” he said. “As a defensive player, let alone a d-lineman, that’s what you want. You want that crowd noise. You want the O-lineman not to be able to hear the snap count, so you can get that jump on him — definitely huge for a pass rusher. So that played a big factor.”
More than anything fans or media say about the Seahawks, what matters most is what players think.
“I would like to think that guys can see and they can feel that we’re trying to really go places with our club,” said Carroll. “We’re getting better. We’re a young team that’s on the rise. Maybe that is a statement.”
For sure, there is this statement made by Schneider over the moves made this week.
“Well, it’s gone well, there’s no question . . . that some of these came to fruition,” he said. “It’s more of a blessing than anything . . . trying to be prepared and see what happens.”
The business of blessings is more in the wheelhouse of the Vatican than the VMAC. The business of football is about making Matt Ryan flinch before he gets the snap.
Finally, the Seahawks seem to have hired enough people to make that happen.