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Cliff Avril Extension a Bargain for Seahawks in Search of Defensive Continuity

Craig VanderkamFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2014

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers nearly loses the ball as he is sacked by defensive end Cliff Avril #56 of the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter on November 27, 2014 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.  The Seahawks won 19-3. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense is not being broken up anytime soon, with defensive end Cliff Avril being the latest to sign a multi-year extension.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport broke the news and reported the deal was for $28.5 million, including $16 million guaranteed.

The extension comes one day after the team announced a four-year deal with linebacker K.J. Wright, which prompted questions on whether the Seahawks still had enough money to allocate toward retaining Avril, as well.

Clearly, they did.

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 04: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is sacked by defensive end Cliff Avril #56 of the Seattle Seahawks during the third quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Phot
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Within the last nine months, the Seahawks have now locked up Wright, Avril, cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas and defensive end Michael Bennett to long-term contracts, keeping the core of the NFL’s top-ranked total defense under contract for the foreseeable future.

A sixth player locked up on that defense through at least 2017 is safety Kam Chancellor, who signed a four-year extension prior to the 2013 season.

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal made a note of that and opined what that continuity could mean for the Seattle defense:

Gregg Rosenthal @greggrosenthal

Top defenses are hard to keep together. The Seahawks have a chance to be remembered as an all-time great group.

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Almost certainly not by coincidence, Avril received the same contract the Seahawks gave to Bennett in March, which prevented him from testing unrestricted free agency. In two years with Seattle, the duo has combined for 27 sacks, 30 tackles for loss and 72 quarterback hits, according to STATS LLC.

Over that same time frame, Avril is tied for eighth in the NFL with six forced fumbles.

This season, Pro Football Focus has Avril ranked as the No. 13 overall 4-3 defensive end in the league (subscription required). PFF ranks him as the seventh-best pass-rusher at the position, behind Cameron Wake, Junior Galette, Robert Ayers, Robert Quinn, Charles Johnson and Bennett, while his 38 quarterback hurries rank fourth.

Pro Football Focus analyst Pete Damilatis noted Avril has been one of the best pass-rushing ends in the league since signing with the Seahawks:

Pete Damilatis @PFF_Pete

Since he joined the Seahawks, Cliff Avril's +41.1 @PFF pass rush grade (incl. playoffs) is the 4th-highest of any 4-3 DE.

According to OverTheCap, the guaranteed money in Avril’s new contract—using the figures reported by Rapoport—is tied for the 10th-most for a 4-3 defensive end. Given his production over the last two seasons, Avril likely could have made more on the open market—though it seems plausible he would take less to stay in Seattle and keep the defense together.

Avril, who was originally signed away from the Detroit Lions prior to the 2013 season, expressed his desire to stay with the Seahawks in an August piece by Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times and sent the following tweet after signing his extension:

Cliff Avril @cliffavril

We have something special here in Seattle and I'm happy that I'll be apart of it for a few more years... #BLESSED #WIN

The Seahawks defense, which struggled out of the gate this season (a Super Bowl hangover, perhaps) to the tune of 324.5 yards and 23.5 points per game over a 3-3 start, has been lights out since Week 8, allowing 233.3 yards and 12.6 points per game over that span.

Those numbers, remarkably, are even better than last season’s Super Bowl team, which averaged 273.6 yards and 14.4 points per game.

Over its current four-game winning streak, the Seahawks defense has limited opponents to 188 yards per game, including season lows for opponents in three straight games from Week 12 through 14. In addition, it has recorded 16 sacks during that winning streak, more than the team's first 10 games combined (13).

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 02:  Running back Knowshon Moreno #27 of the Denver Broncos is tackled by defensive end Cliff Avril #56 middle linebacker Bobby Wagner #54 and defensive end Chris Clemons #91 of the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of S
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If you’re a Seahawks fan, these recent deals for Wright and Avril ensure no drastic changes will be made to the defense moving forward. Seattle cannot yet negotiate an extension for middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is playing in the third year of his four-year rookie contract, but Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times writes, "It's expected the team will extend [him] after the season." 

Unfortunately for opponents, the nucleus of this vaunted defense isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, made possible by the trade of Percy Harvin to the New York Jets, as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports:

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

1 reason #Seahawks dealt Percy Harvin was to free up some of his $$. They made it count with big extensions for KJ Wright & now Cliff Avril

With these extensions in the rear-view mirror, the Seahawks can turn their attention this offseason to Wagner, strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin, and, of course, quarterback Russell Wilson, all of whom will be entering the final seasons of their rookie contracts.

Wagner, as mentioned, is likely to be extended, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote Wilson will be the Seahawks’ next order of business:

Jason La Canfora @JasonLaCanfora

Seahawks were hopeful of getting Avril and Wright extensions done in 2014. Accomplished both. Now it's on to the QB in 2015

The opportunity cost of these extensions could end up being upcoming free-agents Byron Maxwell, an underrated yet replaceable cornerback, and left guard James Carpenter. The recent extensions—as well as the upcoming inevitable ones—will make it difficult to retain either.

Still, as a tradeoff for keeping their core players on defense—and, eventually, the face of their offense—in the fold, the Seahawks are well-positioned for more deep playoff runs and have extended their Super Bowl window for another handful of seasons.

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