RENTON The NFL announced Thursday morning Cliff Avril is the NFC’s defensive player of the month for October.
He could its person of the month, too.
At the level he’s playing, Avril may be building not just houses but a whole city in Haiti.
The Seahawks defensive end’s father emigrated from Haiti in 1982, four years before Avril was born. Avril visited the Caribbean nation as a kid every summer to see his grandmother. Now, as perhaps the most consistently brilliant, yet overlooked member of Seattle’s starry defense, Avril has pledged to build one home in Haiti for each sack he gets this season.
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He’s not even halfway through his year for the Seahawks (4-2-1). Yet after yet another sublime game last weekend in New Orleans, Avril is committed to funding 7½ new houses in storm-and-poverty-battered Haiti.
He has 7 1/2 sacks in seven games entering Monday night’s game against Buffalo (4-4) at CenturyLink Field. Avril is on his way to setting a new career high; the ninth-year veteran had 11 sacks for Detroit in 2011, his first year in the NFL starting all 16 games.
The Saints game was the latest in a series of superb outings for Avril: another sack; a tackle behind the line; another quarterback hit; a fumble he forced from Saints running back Mark Ingram with a punch which Earl Thomas returned for a touchdown; and even a pass batted down.
Avril has 12 quarterback hits — half those in a single game — two batted passes for incompletions and forced three fumbles.
Other than that, he hasn’t done squat in two months.
“We’re so fortunate to play a game for a living, and I’m lucky to be able to provide homes for people since that’s something that we take for granted,” Avril said. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to be in a situation to help some people — and hopefully I can get some more (sacks).”
Haiti and the Pacific Northwest alike will be rooting for Avril to get more sacks in these next few weeks. That’s because Michael Bennett, Seattle’s more acclaimed Pro Bowl end opposite Avril, had arthroscopic surgery Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Bennett will miss Monday’s game and at least the Nov. 13 game at New England, too. Avril’s success in affecting Tom Brady will go a long way to determining if the Seahawks can win their biggest road test of the regular season.
Bennett gets all the headlines for how loud he is on the field — and all for the funny, insightful, outspoken and often outrageous statements he makes off it.
Bennett does comical hip thrusts and swivels. He blares rap music in the locker room with explicit lyrics about the presidential election. He shrieks a heinous rendition of Adele at a military-appreciation event for Navy sailors and Marines at CenturyLink Field. And the married father of three daughters offers this advice to teammate Russell Wilson, a father to be: “Always make the wife think she’s right.”
That’s all been within just the last month.
Avril? He is the smooth to Bennett’s smack and shake.
“He’s a nut case,” Avril once said of Bennett, admiringly.
Thing is, Avril sends just as much harassment and harm at opposing quarterbacks, from the other side. It’s just he does it relatively quietly.
How much do the Seahawks value the work of Avril compared with Bennett? They gave Bennett a four-year, $28.5 million contract in 2014. Later that same year, they gave Avril a four-year extension worth … $28.5 million.
You may have heard a time or three how unhappy Bennett is about his money, how he’s the NFL’s 27th-highest-paid defensive lineman.
He’s tied for 27th with Avril. When’s the last time you heard Avril complain about that?
He and his wife Dantia raise their young sons Xavier and Xander, born 13 months ago. He claims an addiction to Candy Crush, the ubiquitous video game on mobile phones.
And, oh yeah, he visits Haiti, then builds earthquake- and hurricane-proof schools and homes there. He estimates the homes his sacks will build will cost about $7,000 each. So far, he’s up past $52,000 committed to rebuilding one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nations.
Is this as well as he’s ever played?
His answer was characteristic Avril.
“Uh … I don’t know. I leave that to you guys,” he said with a chuckle inside the visitors’ locker room at the Superdome last weekend. “You guys make the decisions on that.
“I mean, you know, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few sacks, fortunate enough to get some houses in Haiti. So hopefully we just keep it going.”
Luck has had little to do with it.
Avril turned 30 this past spring, but he still has speed that offensive tackles wish he hadn’t. He has strength to go inside and through double teams — of which he will be getting more against the Bills and Patriots with Bennett out for at least these next two games.
Perhaps equal or above all that, Avril’s precise preparation leaves him as well-versed in the opponent’s tendencies, line calls, blocking scheme and even snaps counts as the opponent is.
And he’s in shape. After two sacks and a forced fumble against Atlanta’s top-ranked offense, Avril played 77 of the epic 95 snaps Seattle’s defense was on the field two weeks ago for the 6-6 overtime tie at Arizona. He had 2 1/2 sacks that night, plus six hits on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. That was the most QB hits for Avril in a game since he joined the Seahawks as a free agent from the Lions before the 2013 season.
Last weekend in New Orleans, with Bennett out for the first time this season, Avril played 65 of the defense’s 76 snaps. That’s 142 plays in two games over seven days.
Avril was asked in the locker room after the Saints game if he was “pooped.”
Avril sounded grossed out.
“Pooped? What is ‘pooped’?” Avril said, his voice rising
“Oh, fatigued. No, I felt great, personally. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I felt great …
“Unless you can tell it on film, I feel great.”
That’s the point. We can tell it on film.
The NFC, the NFL -- everyone -- can see how great Avril’s been.