RENTON — Hours after announcing the official signing of defensive end Cliff Avril on Thursday, the Seattle Seahawks showed they weren’t done addressing the team’s pass rush issues when reports surfaced that defensive lineman Michael Bennett was returning to the team.
The 27-year-old free agent spent the past four seasons plying his trade for Tampa Bay, leading the Bucs in sacks with nine in 2012.
Bennett visited Miami on Thursday, but agreed to a reported 1-year, $5 million deal to return to Seattle, and is expected to sign with the team today if he passes a physical.
An undrafted rookie free agent for the Seahawks in 2009, Bennett earned a roster spot with a productive exhibition season, but was surprisingly cut in October 2009 and claimed off waivers by the Bucs.
At 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds, Bennett is a likely replacement for Jason Jones, who signed with Detroit in free agency. Bennett can rush the passer from the defensive tackle position on passing downs, and will also serves as depth behind starting defensive end Red Bryant.
Hours before news broke about the Bennett deal, Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider raved about Avril’s versatility as an edge rusher during a conference call with reporters. Both said that Seattle’s
new defensive end also has the ability to drop back in coverage from his days as a Purdue linebacker.
“I chose Seattle because I like what I’ve seen on defense, I like what I’ve seen as a team,” Avril said. “I played against them last year also, so I knew what they had — a bunch of young guys that seem to love the game of football and that (go out and play) hard. I got the opportunity and I took it.”
Schneider remarked that what makes Avril unique is his ability to rush from the left side, and then work his way back to the quarterback after a speed rush.
“The guy is a high-effort player,” Schneider said. “He can come at you underneath, outside. He’s got … real nice change of direction skills and abilities, flexible hips and a very nice ability to work his way back to the quarterback once he gets upfield like the better, faster speed rushers are able to do.”
When asked how Avril’s arrival affects Chris Clemons, who is coming off of ACL knee surgery, Carroll said the team doesn’t want to rush its sacks leader back before he’s ready.
“He’s making a great recovery,” Carroll said. “We’re definitely not going to rush Chris in any way. We want to bring him back and not play him until he’s perfectly healthy and ready to go. (The Avril deal) doesn’t affect him at all. Chris is a premier player for us, and we expect him to come roaring back. And we just want to make sure that the urgency isn’t such that we rush his rehab. And so that’s a top priority for us.
“But he feels that he has a chance to make it back at the start of the year. We’ll find out. And we’ll keep our fingers crossed on that.”
Carroll said the team will use all three edge rushers — Avril, Clemons and Bruce Irvin — on third downs and in different packages.
“We’re going to mix the play of these guys to keep them fresh and keep them strong,” Carroll said. “And really keep the tempo of our pass rush at a peak — that’s really important to us.”
With Bennett, Avril and Percy Harvin in the fold, Schneider said the Seahawks now will focus on securing their own free agents, which include defensive tackle Alan Branch, linebacker Leroy Hill, cornerback Marcus Trufant, kicker Steven Hauschka and offensive lineman Frank Omiyale.
“We really wanted to help our pass rush as much as we possibly could,” Schneider said. “After that, really we’ll just kind of focus on our own guys and see what comes next, see what’s down the line.”
Two days after the Seahawks released him, return man Leon Washington found a new home, signing a one-year deal with New England in free agency. Washington said he had interest from Tampa Bay as a possible trade partner with Seattle before his release, but opted for a trip to New England once the Seahawks let him go. Washington is tied with Josh Cribbs for the most kickoff returns in NFL history with eight.