The Seahawks’ deals for Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright had been in the works pretty much all year, so it was no surprise they got them done before the end of the season.
It takes away the top two players from Seattle’s sizable 2015 free-agent list and means Seattle now has all but one starter from the league’s No. 1 defense under contract next year (two if you add Kevin Williams to Byron Maxwell).
Wright and Avril join Legion of Boom stalwarts Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, plus defensive lineman Michael Bennett, as the keys to a defense that could reign over the NFL through 2017.
General manager John Schneider said they “identified K.J. as one of our core players moving forward and aimed to keep him as a part of the Seahawks family for a long time” and “Cliff has been instrumental in what we’ve been building on the defensive side of the ball and we are excited that he’ll be with us for another four years.”
Coach Pete Carroll said, “I think we’ve really been able to make a couple really strong statements right here with K.J. and Cliff in the last couple days. We found the core guys that we really like and we’re trying to keep them here and keep them together.
“With the opportunity here and closing at the end of the year, we had the chance to do this financially, so we jumped at the chance. Both of these guys are great team players. They’ve been in it in every aspect of our program and have done everything we could ask of them. It’s great to be able to reward those guys and really create more stability for the future. In particular we had the chance to do something on defense back to back. You can see how much we’ve leaned on our D and how much believe in it and have the chance to be together for a long time, and that’s a big statement and a big commitment and we’re really happy to do that.”
With those two deals done, the Hawks have only three other potential big deals next offseason: Maxwell and extensions for quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.
“We want to make sure we get everything in line as best we can,” Carroll said. “As you know, we have a huge plan and … we’ve been at it the whole time. John’s done a fantastic job at orchestrating it and keeping us on track and giving us a chance to feel this sense of stability that we’re trying to create.”
Even if the Hawks are unable to re-sign Maxwell, they won’t have to fret much, considering they have Tharold Simon, Jeremy Lane and Marcus Burley behind him and surely will draft another cornerback.
Otherwise, they merely have a bunch of role players — most of whom probably can be brought back on one-year deals. The key defenders include Williams, O’Brien Schofield, Jeron Johnson, Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan (RFA). The key offensive players are James Carpenter, Jermaine Kearse (RFA), Lemuel Jeanpierre and Tony Moeaki.
The Hawks also will need to decide by May whether to invoke a 2016 option for Bruce Irvin, which figures to be around $3 million (he is scheduled to make $1.66 million next year). And, if they consider oft-injured left tackle Russell Okung a keeper, they could end up doing an extension before the final year of his original contract.
For now, the good news is the Hawks have all of the key pieces in place to continue their ascension as one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.
Avril and Wright can sense it.
“We play so well together and we get along so good, you just have to keep these guys around,” Wright said. “It only makes sense to have guys you drafted here to keep growing and developing to Super Bowl players.”
Avril said, “I’m happy to know that I’ll be back in Seattle with such a great group of guys. The talent on this team is amazing, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
“I love what Coach Carroll is doing with the guys here. I love the scheme. The guys that we have in the locker room make it so fun to play here, and again just being in Seattle and the environment that we have going. We want to keep the party going.”