Former Lion Cliff Avril took less money to sign with the Seahawks as a free agent, but he earned a trip to the Super Bowl. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Jersey City, N.J. — Cliff Avril would never come out and say he got the last laugh, but he had a hard time keeping a smile off his face Sunday as he spoke about where his football journey has landed him since leaving Detroit.
“One of the first things I thought about was my rookie year and not winning a game and then five or six years later I’m at the big show,” said Avril, who after five seasons with the Lions landed with the NFC champion Seahawks. “And hopefully we’re about to win it.”
To refresh your memory, the Lions offered Avril a three-year deal worth $30 million before the 2012 season. He turned that down and accepted a one-year franchise tender worth $10.6 million. He was, as general manager Martin Mayhew said at the time, betting on himself, that he’d be able to better that deal before the following offseason.
But after going 4-12 in 2012, the Lions changed their profile for defensive ends. Instead of smaller, speedier edge rushers like Avril, they wanted bigger and stronger ends. They never even pursued Avril in free agency.
Avril wound up signing a two-year deal worth $13 million with Seattle. His $6.5 million average salary is 19th among defensive ends.
“It’s a business,” Avril said. “I’ve been saying that for the past couple of years. I understand that. It’s working out for me, man. I can’t complain. I am at the Super Bowl talking to you guys.”
When asked if the ring will make up for the dollars he potentially left on the table in Detroit, he laughed.
“It’s not like I am making pennies,” he said. “I am fortunate to be where I am. There is no bitterness at all.”
Avril said he wasn’t surprised the Lions made no attempt to sign him last summer.
“We didn’t talk at all,” he said. “They were just ready to move on. It’s understandable. They probably were taking some guys in the draft to replace me. But again, I’m not tripping over it.”
The Lions signed Jason Jones and drafted Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor to fill in for the loss of Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
“I really appreciate my opportunity in Detroit,” Avril said. “I had a blast. We didn’t win much but that one season, but I had a blast. I have nothing but good memories of Detroit. It’s just unfortunate things didn’t work out — well, fortunate for me, things are working out well right now.”
Avril kept tabs on the Lions this season. He stayed close with Louis Delmas, Stephen Tulloch, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson, among others.
“I thought there would be a chance we’d play those guys in the playoffs,” he said. “They were playing so well there and then, they kept losing all those games in the fourth quarter. It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to play them.”
Avril has only started two games this season and he plays roughly half the defensive snaps. Still, he produced eight sacks, four pass deflections and five forced fumbles. He’s had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in two playoff games.
“This defense was good before I got here,” he said. “It was just about finding my role. I am taking less snaps than I was in Detroit, but our defensive backs here are A-1. We’ve got some of the best in the league and that’s what you are looking for as a defensive lineman. They make that quarterback hold the ball a little longer and give you that extra split second to get there.”
The only trepidation Avril felt about leaving Detroit, he said, was relocating his family to the Pacific Northwest.
“But everything else was what I wanted – the team, the stadium, the 12th man and the opportunity to get right here at the Super Bowl and have a good chance to win,” he said.
“So, no, I am not bitter and I am not mad. It is what it is; it’s a business.”