JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril, one of six Seahawks designated to speak to the media after the team’s arrival at its hotel Sunday night to begin preparations for the Super Bowl, couldn’t help but smile as he took his seat and looked out at the bank of camera lights aimed his way.
“It’s still sinking in,’’ he said of being part of a team that in a week will play in the biggest football game there is against the Denver Broncos.
This is a much happier reality to try to accept, though, then the one that greeted Avril as a rookie in Detroit in 2008. That season, Avril and the Lions made dubious history as the first, and so far only, NFL team to go 0-16 since the league expanded to a 16-game season in 1978.
The memory of that indignity is never far away, Avril said, especially now that he is on the other side.
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“That’s the first thing I thought about,’’ he said. “My rookie year we didn’t win any games and then five to six years later I make the big show and hopefully about to win it. It’s been a long run, I guess, in a sense.’’
The idea of such a moment, Avril said, played a large role in his decision to sign with Seattle as a free agent last March.
Avril had 39.5 sacks in five seasons with the Lions, establishing himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game.
But he became available after failing to reach a contract agreement with Detroit, reportedly turning down a $30 million, three-year offer before 2012.
Avril said Detroit didn’t bother to try to keep him after the season, leaving Avril to take his chances in free agency. With lots of pass rushers available, however, it turned out to be more of a buyer’s market than many anticipated, and Avril signed a $15 million, two-year deal with the Seahawks.
Asked if he regrets the apparent loss of money, Avril said, “Hey, it’s not like I’m making pennies. I can’t complain. I’m fortunate enough to be where I’m at right now and there is definitely no bitterness.’’
Seattle hotly pursued Avril as it sought to improve a pass rush that got a lion’s share of the blame for the divisional playoff loss to Atlanta a year ago.
Avril, meanwhile, liked what he thought was about to happen in Seattle.
“I knew how good they were and knew we had a good chance of doing it (getting to the Super Bowl),’’ he said.
A day after finalizing the deal with Avril, the Seahawks signed Michael Bennett, who had played the previous four years in Tampa Bay and was regarded as the other top pass rusher available.
The signings have had the desired effect of transforming Seattle’s pass rush. Bennett led Seattle with 8.5 sacks this season while Avril had eight as the Seahawks finished with 44, 11 more than in 2012.
Each, though, has also had to accept playing fewer snaps on a deep Seattle defensive line than they might have elsewhere.
Avril saw his snaps drop from 686 and 66.3 percent of the plays in 2012 in Detroit to 554 and 53.2 percent this season, a lesser role he acknowledged took a little while to accept.
“I didn’t necessarily know (when he signed) that it would be less,’’ he said. “None of us did. You have me, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons. All of us were starters for four to five years straight, and the big thing was just trying to figure out how to use us all. All three of us are defensive ends. Once they figured out how to use us all and what not, we all just put our pride aside. It took a while for all of us to get used to our situations and how we are playing. But once we got to week six, week seven, we understood our roles and it was go-ahead.’’
Avril started just two of 15 games he played in this season, instead becoming used more in obvious passing situations.
Safety Earl Thomas said the manner in which Avril and Bennett have accepted their roles hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He and Bennett have been great,’’ Thomas said. “Especially me being the free safety. Sometimes all I take is three backpedals and they are getting after the quarterback. So they are impact players. It’s crazy how they are able to adapt. They don’t get the snaps they want. But when they come in the game, they impact it.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.