EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There is an argument to be made that Cliff Avril is one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL.
Or, at least, there was until Sunday night's Super Bowl XLVIII, when Avril nearly thrust himself onto the MVP podium with a standout effort against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Avril was credited with three tackles, two QB hits and two passes defensed -- one of which led to a pick-six interception by the Seahawk who would win MVP, Malcolm Smith.
"I didn't have any sacks so I understand it, but I didn't think a defensive player would get it though," said Avril of the game's Most Valuable Player honor after Seattle's 43-8 win. "It was cool to see a defensive player do it."
Avril signed with the Seahawks in March for less than the market value he expected: two years and $13 million with just $1.5 million in base salary this season. The Lions had tried previously to lock him up, sticking a three-year, $30 million contract under his nose prior to the 2012 season. Avril declined, then walked away into free agency.
Once with Seattle, he basically just kept on doing what he's done his whole career. His eight sacks were second-most on the team behind only Michael Bennett's 8.5, and that is with Avril missing a game and being in the starting lineup only twice. Over the past four seasons, Avril has 37 sacks, matching the totals put up by Terrell Suggs and Mario Williams and besting the likes of Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, LaMarr Woodley and Trent Cole.
"Cliff played so good this season," Bennett said after the Seahawks' win, "I think he deserves a raise."
Whether or not that was tongue-in-cheek, Avril is in line for a bump -- to a $7 million base salary next season. That's a price tag that could make it difficult for the Seahawks to re-sign Bennett, though early reports have them wanting, understandably, to keep both guys in the fold.
Avril may never want to leave Seattle again. After all, he won two games total over his first two seasons in the league, opening with back-to-back marks of 0-16 and 2-14 in Detroit. His best statistical season with the Lions (2011) just happened to coincide with the team's lone playoff appearance during Avril's time there, and it ended quickly with a wild-card round loss to New Orleans.
Maybe all the losing led to the decision to pass on Detroit's lucrative offer. Whatever it was, Avril definitely looks to have made the right choice now that he has a Super Bowl ring.
"It just shows that if you continue to grind, have faith and have hard work," Avril said, "it'll pay off."
Did he feel like he had something to prove this season?
Absolutely. As did, he added, the rest of his fellow Seattle defenders.
"There's no big-name guy," Avril said. "Everybody's got a chip on their shoulder, everybody wants to show why your team [made a mistake when it] gave up on you or why your draft pick was so late."
The Seahawks played that "no respect" card over and over again after claiming a Super Bowl victory on Sunday night. Forget the fact that many experts pegged this team as Super Bowl favorites before the season began or that almost the same number picked them to emerge on top at MetLife Stadium.
Head coach Pete Carroll clearly used that angle as motivation for his team, which responded overwhelmingly throughout the regular season and playoffs.
Avril was one of the leaders throughout, even though he took on a smaller role than the one he had in the Motor City. Sunday, he was borderline unstoppable -- that forced interception proving the greatest piece of evidence. On that play, Avril simply overpowered Denver right tackle Orlando Franklin to put heat on Manning. Avril arrived at the Broncos' QB just as he set to throw, with the Avril-caused collision leading to the wobbly pass that fell right into Smith's arms.
Bennett described the Lions' eventual decision to let Avril leave as "not smart -- like buying a bridge in Idaho" (apparently, a reference to a Frank Ocean lyric: "Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho ...").
That Seattle was the team to pluck Avril from free agency should come as no surprise given the near-unending stream of smart roster decisions Carroll and general manager John Schneider pulled off while piecing this championship team together.
"You put your pride aside for sure, when you go from playing the majority of snaps [to being part of a rotation]," Avril said. "It took a little bit to get used to. Once I saw the bigger picture, which was getting here and doing that, it was worth it."