SEATTLE — Seattle has established itself as a destination in today’s NFL.
That is the lesson to be drawn from this week’s free-agent additions, a two-man coup at defensive end as Seattle signed Cliff Avril of Detroit to a two-year contract Thursday and then reached an agreement with Michael Bennett of Tampa Bay on a one-year deal.
These were two of the top pass-rushers on the market, a pair of players who had nine sacks apiece in 2012 and entered the free-agent market with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But after the market for pass-rushers proved less lucrative than expected, those two players took a look at their respective options and decided to take short-term deals with a rising contender in Seattle that plays its home games in a cauldron of decibels that is a defensive player’s dream.
“I’m happy to be here,” Avril said in a conference call with Seattle-area reporters. “The reason why I chose this team is because the defense all around is pretty good. Guys are young and they’re hungry.”
Avril was one of the most prolific pass-rushers available on the open market, a player in his mid-20s whom Seattle signed for a two-year deal that caught almost everyone off guard.
Receiver Percy Harvin was the bigger investment both in terms of the size of his contract and the draft picks Seattle gave up to get him. That was a power-play acquisition whereas Avril’s arrival took nearly everyone by surprise, including the guy who signed him.
“What happens in this process is you never know,” Seattle general manager John Schneider said. “And Cliff Avril’s a great example of that: You never know what’s going to pop up.”
This is a player who had 29 sacks over the past three years and is coming off a season in which he made $10.6 million as Detroit’s franchise player. He was one of the top pass-rushers available in free agency this year along with Baltimore’s Paul Kruger. But the offers were much more tepid than expected.
“It was off a little bit,” Kruger said.
On the second day of free agency, Avril looked at his options and chose a shorter-term deal in Seattle that leaves Chris Clemons as the Seahawks’ highest-paid pass-rusher. The incentive for Avril is that a two-year agreement puts him in position to re-enter the market in 2015 when the salary cap is expected to spike up and Avril will be 28.
“It being a short-term deal,” Avril said, “it was just moreso I’ll be young still and gives me another chance (at free agency).”
Everyone always talks about the difficulty of luring a free agent to Seattle, citing everything from the weather to the geography of the league’s most isolated outpost. Well, Avril lives in Florida, went to college at Purdue and after playing the last five years in Detroit and he chose to come to the upper lefthand corner of the country, not just because the Seahawks outpaid everyone else, but because of the total package that this team offered from contract to contention.
Success has a price in today’s NFL, the reality that other teams come looking to buy a part or three off of good teams. But success has dividends, too, and Seattle suddenly finds itself in position to reap a pretty large one first with Avril and then with Bennett’s decision.
Has it become a place where players want to be?
“I would hope so,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I would like to think that guys can see and they can feel that we’re trying to really go places with our club and we’re getting better and we’re a young team that’s on the rise.”
And its two most recent additions are two of the top pass-rushers on the open market, whose short-term contracts don’t constrain the team’s ability to re-sign the young nucleus assembled in the draft.
The Seahawks are now a desired destination in the NFL.