Cliff Avril remains the way he’s always been while with the Seahawks.
Grounded. Appreciative. Real.
The Pro Bowl defensive end--one of my favorite people I’ve covered in Seattle--made some fans excited Monday during an appearance on NFL Network. Host Steve Wyche asked Avril if after his season-ending neck surgery this past fall he thinks he will ever play again.
“I believe so,” Avril told Wyche.
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Yet there’s far more to it than that.
Coach Pete Carroll said Jan. 2, two days after Seattle’s season ended without Avril and without the team playing in the postseason for the first time in six years, that Avril and safety Kam Chancellor “are going to have a hard time playing again.” Chancellor also had a season-ending neck injury in 2017. Later that day in his season-ending press conference, Carroll backed off that to say only the team didn’t exactly know what the players’ futures were.
“Honestly, I really can't (say more),” Carroll said. “I shouldn't say anymore than we don't know yet. I don't know. I don't know what to tell you there.
“Both those guys are marvelous people and competitors and all that. We'd love to see them through the rest of their career. I don't know what's going to happen there.”
Avril is hugely popular inside the Seahawks’ locker room and around Seattle for being an all-around good guy. Teammates such as fellow ends Frank Clark and Michael Bennett have been scared by Avril’s injury and situation. On Oct. 1 Avril got kicked under the jaw by Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett while the Colts quarterback tried to scramble away from Avril’s diving attempt at a tackle. The 10-year veteran temporarily lost feeling in his arms and hands; he could be seen vigorously shaking them on the field immediately after the hit to try to regain feeling. The force of his head snapping back caused a disc injury in his neck that needed surgery to repair.
Bennett has called his great friend’s injury “devastating.”
Wednesday, Avril was interviewed on Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio while en route to his latest physical-therapy appointment, to get back in shape and regain normal mobility in his neck. He said his basic quality of life was far more important than football. He added that any decision about playing again will come only after he is assured he will be able to be a healthy husband and father.
Co-host Brock Huard asked Avril if his physical therapy is an effort to get back on the field playing again.
“I’m getting better,” Avril said. “Well, first and foremost, I mean, my health is most important, right? So for me, I just want to get back to feeling good, right? I just want to get back to being able to move around and hopefully be able to get outside and play basketball with my kids, and different things like that.
“That’s the main goal for me. Not necessarily getting back to football, but just quality of life, right?”
Absolutely, positively right.
And great for him.
Avril turns 32 in April. The former member of an 0-16 team in Detroit knows he is fortunate to be at the point of his life and career, a Super Bowl champion who has earned $25 million over the last four seasons, that he doesn’t need to play anymore. This coming year will be the final one of the four-year, $28.5 million extension he signed in 2014. None of his $7 million remaining salary for 2018 is guaranteed.
The Seahawks could release him before next season and save $7.5 million against their salary cap. That’s a tempting proposition in the cold realm of NFL finances for a team that’s been pressed up against its cap limit for the last six months.
Yet Avril may ultimately make the Seahawks’ decision on whether he will be on the team in 2018 for them.
As you can probably tell by now, Avril has far more going for him than just football. He and his wife Dantia have two young sons, Xavier and Xander. He and his Cliff Avril Family Foundation have held charity events such as backpack and school-supply giveaways to kids to raise awareness for childhood diabetes. He has donated money for each of his 14 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons to build homes in impoverished Haiti. He has visited the island nation to do some of the building; he talked against Wednesday of returning soon to paint and polish those schools. His father emigrated from Haiti in 1982, four years before Avril was born. Avril visited the Caribbean nation as a kid every summer to see his grandmother.
That’s a life after football worth living. And that’s a choice Avril will be making--but only after he is convinced he can shoot hoops with his boys long beyond his days playing in the NFL.
“As I continue to just keep chopping away, I don’t want to just close the door on (playing again),” Avril told KIRO Wednesday. “So I definitely think I can get back on the field. If it’s possible, I will.
“But if not, I’m OK with that. As long as I am able to be a dad and being able to run around with my kids. That’s number one for me right now.”