The foundation began to be laid in Bruce Irvin’s mind about a return to Seattle when the Seahawks played the Panthers last Dec. 15 in Charlotte.
A few conversations before and after the game and the feeling he got from the Seattle sideline during a 30-24 Seahawks win — a feeling he remembered vividly from his four years with Seattle from 2012-15 — made it clear to him that he’d love to be a Seahawk again.
“After we played them I was like, ‘Damn, I wish I was with those guys,'” Irvin said Tuesday during a Zoom interview with reporters.
It was further cast when Irvin watched from his home as the Seahawks beat the Eagles in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.
After the game, Irvin texted Bobby Wagner a similar message: “Damn, I wish I was on that plane.’’
His return to Seattle was finally cemented when he agreed to a contract with the Seahawks about as early as he could, on the day that the free agent signing period officially opened on March 18.
“I just wanted to come back,’’ said Irvin, who said he didn’t seriously consider any other options, eventually signing a one-year contract with Seattle worth up to $5.9 million with $5 million guaranteed at signing.
Irvin confirmed the plan is for him to fill the same role now that he did during his initial tenure with the Seahawks, as a strongside linebacker on early downs and then an edge rusher on passing downs.
It’s a similar role he’s had throughout his career, much of which he has played with current Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., who was his linebackers coach with Seattle the first time and then the DC when Irvin signed with Oakland in 2016, eventually playing two-and-a-half years with the Raiders.
“Pretty much the same,” Irvin said of his role.
And that could give Seattle the same linebacking corps it had during its Super Bowl glory years, with Wagner at middle linebacker and K.J. Wright at the weakside. Wright, though, is also recovering from recent shoulder surgery and will get some stiff competition from first-round pick Jordyn Brooks, who is expected to start out at weakside. And Seahawks GM John Schneider has also said Wright could be used at the strongside spot, which could set up a scenario of Irvin either competing with Wright, or the Seahawks figuring out a way to use both at once.
What the Seahawks hope most, though, is that Irvin can aid the pass rush, the team’s biggest offseason question mark, one that only grew when the Seahawks did not immediately re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, who remains unsigned.
That makes Irvin the most significant acquisition to solve that task as his 8.5 sacks last year with Carolina were a career high. His highest total in Seattle was eight as a rookie in 2012 when he lined up more as an edge rusher (he also had eight in Oakland in 2017).
Irvin says “I’m a more polished player’’ now than during his initial Seattle time.
“The game is slower,’’ he said. “I know how to set up certain moves, I know how to study film. How to take care of my body.’’
All of those are byproducts of a career that may have surprised some draft pundits in its duration and productivity.
Irvin was Seattle’s first-round pick in the memorable 2012 draft that also yielded Wagner and Russell Wilson, and which initially got one infamous F grade from a Bleacher Report writer and was generally in the C range at best.
Irvin was considered something of a reach at No. 15 overall because of questions over whether he could be an effective rusher, as well as a somewhat troubled past that included a three-week stint in jail in high school for burglary and carrying a concealed weapon.
“Major red flags,’’ Irvin said with a laugh Tuesday.
Football helped Irvin turn his life around, and he’s as proud these days of some of his off-field accomplishments — such as having earned a degree in sociology from West Virginia in 2018, which he compared to winning a Super Bowl — as anything he’s done on the field.
When he left Seattle the first time, though, there was a little bit of bitterness.
The Seahawks declined to pick up his fifth-year option in 2015, which elicited a memorable Twitter rant. And he also indicated when he signed with Oakland that he felt the Raiders would make better use of his pass rush skills and that he wasn’t sure he could reach his potential with the Seahawks.
But any hard feelings have long since passed.
Irvin said Tuesday any of his statements on the way out of Seattle the first time was “the younger Bruce talking and not understanding the dynamics of the position.”
Indeed, he’s now 32 and the fourth-oldest player on the Seahawks.
Seattle, likewise, didn’t hold it against Irvin that he had declined a chance to return to Seattle for the playoff stretch drive in 2018 when he was released by Oakland, instead signing with Atlanta, his hometown team.
Irvin recalled that that was the first season for Jon Gruden with the Raiders and that things didn’t work out the way he’d planned, saying, “Gruden is as advertised — crazy man.’’
At the time, Irvin said, “I was just going through so much that I just wanted to go back to Atlanta because that’s where my family is and that played more into it. I just wanted to get home and regroup and refresh and be around family.’’
Having played for two teams since, the Falcons and Panthers, only further reinforced to Irvin how good he had it in Seattle.
“Going back home,’’ he said, saying he will always consider Seattle “his football home.’’
An event in Monday’s team meeting proved again to Irvin why he likes it in Seattle when the team’s virtual meeting featured an appearance from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Coach Pete Carroll brought on Kerr to talk about Michael Jordan and his competitiveness in the wake of the highly-popular ESPN documentary “The Last Dance.’’
Rattling off past Carroll guests such as Snoop Dogg, Drake and NBA great Bill Russell, Irvin said, “That’s what Pete do.’’
Just like old times Irvin wasn’t sure he’d get a chance to experience again.
“Getting another opportunity — words can’t explain how much I appreciate it,’’ he said.