RENTON Cliff Avril’s smile was almost as wide as the field on which he’s dominated this season.
“I finally made it! Nine years!” the Seahawks’ 30-year-old defensive end said before the NFC West champions practiced Wednesday for Saturday’s home game against Arizona.
“It” is becoming a selection for the Pro Bowl for the first time.
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Avril has a career-high 11 1/2 sacks through 14 games this season, tied for third-most in the NFL. After years of being overshadowed by louder, fellow defensive end and great friend Michael Bennett, Avril joined Bennett (chosen for the second consecutive year) among Seattle’s four Pro Bowl selections on Tuesday.
Yes, Avril has come a long, long way from playing for the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008 as a rookie from Purdue.
“Got a lot of phone calls. Got a lot of text messages -- not responding to everybody, so I’m sorry,” Avril said. “It was cool to finally get the nod.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman (fourth consecutive time) and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (third straight selection) are the Seahawks’ other Pro Bowl players for the 2016 season.
The Seahawks’ Pro Bowl alternates: wide receiver Doug Baldwin, first-time center Justin Britt, strong safety Kam Chancellor, tight end Jimmy Graham, kicker Steven Hauschka, kick returner Tyler Lockett, quarterback Russell Wilson and weakside linebacker K.J. Wright. One of those players would be named to the NFC team if a selected member cannot participate in the 2017 Pro Bowl on January 29, 2017, in Orlando, Florida. The league is returning to its AFC-versus-NFC format after three years of captains picking teams from the entire league.
None of the Seahawks actually want to play in the Pro Bowl. All-star selections who play for teams that make the following week’s Super Bowl don’t play in the game.
Avril takes extra pride in the fact the Pro Bowl includes voting from the league’s players. They get one-third of the total vote, with the other thirds from the votes of coaches and of fans.
“Yes,” Avril said. “I mean, we’re the ones playing, so we watch film on everybody. So I definitely think it’s pretty cool to be voted in by your peers, because they understand what’s going on. They understand how hard it is to get sacks, how hard it is to play at a high level. You know, it’s pretty cool that we finally get a say in something.”
Avril then grinned again.
Avril is building one house in Haiti for each sack he gets this season. He visited his grandmother as a kid, when she lived on the impoverished island battered in recent years by storms and an earthquake.
Speaking of sacks, that, I believe, is part of why Wright still has yet to be selected for a Pro Bowl. The every-down, everywhere linebacker has three sacks this season, which is actually the most of his six-season career. Yet Wright’s game is not getting sacks. It is doing just about everything else.
He covers the field like a sprinter in pass coverage. He plugs like a strong safety against the run. He and Wagner never leave the field, not even on nickel or (rare) dime packages with five and six defensive backs. Wright has 113 tackles, three off his career best set last season, with two games remaining in the regular season.
Wright gets penalized from two sides in Pro Bowl voting.
One: He is playing on a defense that is been elite for many years in a row. The Seahawks are two points behind New England from leading the league in fewest points allowed for the fifth consecutive season. Seattle last year became the first team since the 1950s Cleveland Browns to allow the fewest points in the NFL for four consecutive seasons.
Two: Wright is an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme being judged by the same standard across the league as 3-4 outside linebackers. And the NFL judges 3-4 outside linebackers by sacks, because most 3-4 OLBs play down on or just off the edge of the opposing offensive linemen on passing downs.
At least one former Seahawks teammate, one who played strongside linebacker opposite Wright in Seattle through last season, agrees Wright’s omission is inexplicable.