Knowing lows helps ex-Lion Avril appreciate highs

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Phoenix — Cliff Avril doesn't recall any specific low point in 2008.

The former Lions defensive end was a rookie who earned more playing time as the season went on, and as the Lions became the first in history to finish 0-16, he didn't realize the historic failure.

"I was a rookie, so I didn't really understand what we were going through," he said. "I didn't understand how bad we were as a team. I didn't realize until the offseason that was history. For me, I wanted to be one of the guys that was going to return and try to turn things around."

In many ways, Avril did help the turnaround in Detroit as he improved his sack total each of the following three years, including a career-high 11 when the Lions made the playoffs in 2011.

Now, as Avril prepares for a chance to win a second Super Bowl title in his second season with the Seahawks, he appreciates team success even more after experiencing a winless season.

"To go from 0-16 to the Super Bowl back to back, I'm pretty sure I appreciate it more than 50 of the players on this team just for the simple fact that I've been at the bottom," he said. "I've been at the very bottom and to be the last one standing feels amazing. It just shows that with hard work and faith anything is possible."

And Avril's teammates certainly appreciate that hard work.

When Avril signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Seahawks in 2013, he joined a team where he was ultimately a backup, playing behind Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.

Even though he wasn't a starter in name, Avril played just as much as the guys ahead of him and finished with eight sacks and six forced fumbles. In three playoff games last year, Avril had 11/2 sacks, a forced fumble, a safety and three passes defensed, helping Seattle win its first Super Bowl.

"We needed a pass rusher and he was there," linebacker Bruce Irvin said of Avril. "They added him and (Michael Bennett), and that was just like the ceiling moving."

Last offseason, Bryant and Clemons signed with the Jaguars, giving Avril and Bennett a chance to step into the starting lineup. Bennett had seven sacks this year after 81/2 last year, and Avril had five.

Even with the 2013 starters gone, the Seahawks have plenty of pass-rushing depth, but Avril was good enough to earn a four-year, $28.5 million extension last month.

That deal is still less than the three-year, $30 million offer the Lions made before using the franchise tag on Avril in 2012.

"You can't buy a Super Bowl ring, so I definitely take pride in the fact that, thank God, I made the right decision," he said. "And I've been able to get one Super Bowl ring, and I'm at another Super Bowl.

"Hindsight at the time, I wasn't happy with the situation, but now, I'm very happy and I'm very pleased."

As they prepare to block Avril in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Patriots offensive linemen see the same thing on tape. Left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer both noted his ability to jump off the ball, and Vollmer said he has a variety of moves.

"It's exciting to play with Cliff," Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. "He's very dynamic at his position. He's got great things he brings, power moves, finesse. I remember watching him all the time before he got here."

And when Avril arrived in Seattle, he wanted to buy Mebane's jersey — No. 92, the number he wore with the Lions. Having worn the number since 2007, Mebane rejected the undisclosed financial sum from Avril, who wears No. 56.

And as Avril knows, money isn't everything.

"Detroit's where I started; I love the D," Avril said. "I have nothing bad to say about Detroit or the Lions organization. Things just didn't happen to work out. It's a business. You've got to roll with the punches, and fortunately it worked out for me. But I have nothing bad to say about the Lions or (general manager Martin) Mayhew or none of those guys.

"I just understand what it is, and I can't be mad. I'm at the Super Bowl."