When Bruce Irvin left the Seahawks after the club declined to take up his option for a fifth season, he wasn’t happy about it. Despite having played in consecutive Super Bowls as part of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, he complained upon joining the Oakland Raiders via free agency that the Seahawks were cramping his style.
“I honestly felt like if I stayed in that system, I don’t think I ever would be the player that I think I can be in this league, and that’s being a pass rusher,” Irvin told SiriusXM NFL radio in 2016. “SAM outside linebacker is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you’ll have two tackles.
“I just want to be utilized more and get put in positions more to make plays.”
Was that true then, Bruce? And since you’re back with the Seahawks, will it be true again?
“I think that was more of a younger Bruce talking,” Irvin said Tuesday, responding to a question in a Zoom conference with Seattle media. “No, I don’t feel that way at all.”
Well, times change. So do circumstances, people, and money. Sometimes in order to move ahead, one must walk back.
Irvin’s $5.9 million, one-year deal for 2020 ($5 million guaranteed), agreed to on the opening day of free agency March 18, was more than he made in any one of his years in Seattle from 2012 to 2015. And at 32, he seems destined to be used for the gig he sought the first time — in a defensive lineup likely free of Jadeveon Clowney, he’ll be the prime QB hunter.
In 13 games the past season at Carolina, he had a career-high 8.5 sacks, or five more than the Seahawks leader, Quinton Jefferson, along with 36 tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovered, while play 55 percent of the snaps. But he was on a 5-11 Panthers team that lost its final eight games, including a 30-24 loss at home Dec. 15 to the Seahawks.
Irvin managed to sack Russell Wilson — one of five sacks in his final six games — but his reward didn’t include a ticket on the plane to Seattle.
“After the game, I texted (Bobby Wagner) saying, ‘Damn, I wish I was on that plane,'” he said. He explained that he wasn’t bad-mouthing Carolina. Just stating the obvious.
“I just wanted to come back, man,” he said. “I can’t complain about anywhere I’ve been, but nothing has been like Seattle. From how we travel, to how we practice, how to take care of the older players, from the cafeteria, from totally being on the lake, from . . .
“It’s just everything.”
Irvin has had stops in Oakland and Atlanta, his hometown, before the past desultory year in Charlotte. Sometimes a little travel helps develop appreciation.
“I would say, refreshing,” Irvin said. “I considered (Seattle) my football home. It was the best thing that could happen to me, especially in year nine.”
It’s a little hard to believe it’s been that long since the Seahawks and Irvin stirred controversy in 2012. He was taken with the 15th pick in the first round out of West Virginia, based largely on his 4.41-second 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine, most impressive for a 250-pounder.
The draft experts screamed, “Reach!” as they did for second-rounder Bobby Wagner and third-rounder Wilson. The skepticism is an often-burnished part of Seahawks lore, given the subsequent results.
Irvin came with a lot of baggage from a disrupted childhood and school troubles. He missed the first four games of the 2013 season via NFL suspension for street drugs, rumored to have been Adderall. That was one of six such claims against Seattle players in that era. Before the Legion of Boom took hold, the snickering nickname around the league was the SeAdderall Seahawks.
Irvin knew he looked to be trouble for any NFL team.
“You guys know I had major red flags,” he said. “They stuck their nose out there for me and they took a chance. It came back around full circle. Words can’t explain how much I appreciate that.”
Irvin said his role is destined to be similar to his first gig: SAM on first and second downs, pass-rushing end on third down. But he thinks he’s better now, despite the years of hard miles.
I’m a more polished player,” he said. “The game is slower. I know how to set up certain things. I know how to study film, how to get my body right. You know, that things that come with maturity,with age, and with being around the right people.”
Some of those “right people” includes non-football people, celebrities in the Carrollian orbit.
This week on the team’s Zoom meeting, it was Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, currently enjoying a new wave of popularity from being in the supporting cast of “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan’s homage to Michael Jordan that concluded a five-week run on ESPN. The previous week it was comedian Will Ferrell, with an amusing impression of aging newcomer TE Greg Olsen.
Irvin recalled Carroll’s previous invites to Drake, Snoop Dogg and Bill Russell, among many others.
“He always keeps it interesting, you know?” Irvin said. “Why not make it a fun environment? Why not make it to where people want to come to work?
“That’s really big, man. Really big.”
Actually, it’s a small thing. But Irvin’s point is understood. No matter how seemingly glamorous and lucrative the job, all contain routine, drudgery and aggravation. Small things loom larger, particularly in these days of disruption for so many workers.
“A lot of things make up a top program,” he said. “I’m just happy to be a part of it again.”
It’s how a guy who walks back can get ahead.