It is old news. Seattle did not pick up Bruce Irvin’s fifth-year option for next season. He expressed his displeasure about it on Twitter and then publicly talked about his desire to play in Atlanta next season. Most Seahawks fans, including myself, have assumed this will be Irvin’s swan song in the Great Northwest. There is, however, a scenario that could result in Irvin getting the contract he wants in Seattle, and it is not all that far-fetched.
Step #1 – Earn It
Captain Obvious makes an appearance to start things off. The reality is that any scenario that results in Irvin getting a meaningful extension from the Seahawks involves Irvin balling out this season. Setting a career-high in sacks would be by far the best thing he could do. He had 8.0 as a rookie, and 6.5 last season. Notching at least 8.0 again this season would guarantee him good money somewhere in the NFL.
Just playing solid SAM is not going to cut it. Seattle has options to backfill the linebacker role he plays. Where they are possibly thin is dynamic speed edge rushers. Neither Frank Clark nor Cassius Marsh fit that description. The only proven speed rusher on the roster is Cliff Avril. All you Obum Gwacham fans can chill until he has actually earned a roster spot, let alone sacked someone in the NFL. That brings us to step two…
Step #2 – Surpass Cliff Avril
This could happen in any number of ways. Irvin could blossom and blow past Avril into the LEO rusher he was drafted to be. Avril could slow as he nears the age of 30. It might be a little from column A and a bit from column B. This would have to occur to get the front office considering their options.
The best thing for Irvin would be to kick down the door and force a team to treat him like a budding Pro Bowl quality pass rusher. Avril sliding would increase Irvin’s value to Seattle, but unless Irvin has also stepped forward in his pass rush productivity, the Seahawks may choose to ride with the contracts they currently have on the books.
Step #3 – Avril Cut
Feel cheated? You should. Losing one great Seahawk to keep another great Seahawk hardly feels like a victory. It is, though, necessary in almost any future that involves Irvin staying in Seahawks blue. This might seem crazy given Avril has been very solid as the Seahawks starter at LEO and he was just signed to an extension. It is not crazy.
Irvin had more sacks (6.5) than Avril (5.0) last season. He is two years younger than Avril. Seattle would save $5M against the cap by releasing Avril after this season, which could be enough to create space for an Irvin deal.
It is not critical for Irvin to prove he can be the starting LEO, although that would certainly strengthen his case. All Irvin needs to do is prove to the Seahawks front office that the better speed edge rusher to pay is the one who is younger. Michael Bennett or Marsh could become the starting LEO and Clark could become the starting five-technique end. Irvin would become the featured nickel edge rusher the way Avril is now, knowing that the team is in nickel more than half the snaps anyway.
Seattle is going to have a choice to make either way. They will be losing one of their speed edge rushers after this year. Irvin could force the team’s hand with a great season. Avril could force the team’s hand with a bad season. When they go to nickel in 2016, one side will be manned by either Avril or Irvin, and the other side will be occupied by some combination of Marsh, Clark, Bennett, or [insert upstart edge rusher].
The biggest unknown in this is whether the bridge truly was burned with Irvin when his option was not picked up. Seattle can offer a nice contract, but he may not want to play here beyond this season, or just prefer to play closer to home.
Whatever Irvin wants, the best way for him to get it is a fantastic 2015 season. Everyone involved is cheering for it.