With the clock ticking fast on the Falcons’ season and perhaps his time with his hometown team as well, Bruce Irvin is not overly eager to talk about the prospect of re-joining the squad next season, but his locker mate had a thought about that not-so-outlandish possibility.
As Irvin pondered the question “Do you want to return to the Falcons?” he was slower to react than he’s been in reaching quarterbacks recently while registering a sack or more in the past three games.
So, fellow defensive end Steven Means filled the empty pause while seated next door by blurting out, “He’s coming back to the A!”
Maybe. He’s already jumped once at his first chance to be a Bird.
Irvin signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Falcons on Nov. 7, just after clearing NFL waivers following his release by the Raiders, when no team claimed him and the remainder of the four-year, $37 million contract with Oakland in 2016.
He might have fetched a bigger bounty with another interested team, such as the Patriots or Steelers, but the seventh-year veteran opted to head home.
“Obviously, I took less money to come here now, so it’s obvious that I wanted to be here. If that works itself out and that becomes a situation, then of course I’ll come home over anything,” Irvin said Thursday. “I’m trying to worry about finishing strong, finishing on a high note, and that stuff will take care of itself.”
Irvin, a former Stephenson High School student who played at West Virginia before the Seahawks drafted him in the first round in 2012, is hitting multiple high notes. In consecutive games, he’s sacked Aaron Rodgers, then tallied 1.5 sacks against Josh Rosen, and Sunday he dropped Carolina’s Taylor Heinicke.
That’s why the Falcons brought him here, and the 6-foot-3, 250-pound menace has grown comfortable to where defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and coach Dan Quinn – who was Seattle’s DC and defensive line coach in 2013-14 when the Seahawks won a Super Bowl and nearly another – are deploying Irvin in more ways.
Certainly, Quinn has not been surprised. Irvin had 22 sacks for the Seahawks in four seasons, 15 for Oakland in 2016-17 and three more in the first seven games this season before coach Jon Gruden opted to part ways.
“We’re trying to feature him as both linebacker and as defensive end, so his playing time is probably increased as well, so he has a few more opportunities doing that,” the coach said.
“... When we first had him here, we had him at nickel end, and we rotated him around there, and now we’re doing it both at linebacker and defensive end.”
Irvin said those details don’t matter to him, and the differences between the positions are minimal, almost as simple as whether he lines up in a three-point stance or upright.
“It took a couple weeks for me to get comfortable and adjusted to a new situation and they put me back at (linebacker),” he said of ramping up and into Atlanta’s scheme. “... (Linebacker) and nickel end, it’s no different to me. I’m a rush ’backer so basically I’m just a stand-up D-end.
“I’m just a rusher. I’ll drop (into coverage) every now and then, but for the most part I’m rushing.”
The Falcons have some to do some roster building the 2019 at defensive end, where Irvin, Derrick Shelby and Means are slated to become unrestricted free agents.
There also is a decision to be made on whether to bring back Vic Beasley at the $12.81 million salary that’s on the books for next year, extend his contract and drop his near-term salary-cap charges, or release him.
Irvin’s decision-making process may be more difficult if there is a next term offered in Atlanta.
While he might have opted for more money elsewhere after the Raiders released him, the decision to return to his hometown team may have been made easier because Oakland is responsible for the balance of his 2018 salary of $8 million, or about $3.7 million, because no other team claimed him and that salary obligation.
Oakland will owe him nothing in 2019, thus ending a double-dip.
If all future NFL offers to Irvin are equal and the Falcons make one of them, he sounds like you’ll see him in a Falcons uniform past Sunday’s finale at Tampa Bay.
“I just feel like I’m doing it for my people, not just fans, but people I see every day. I grew up struggling here, so I want to give back any way I can,” he said. “If that’s being able to perform and win games for them, or if that means being able to give back to my community or anything, I’m here for that.
“I’m a big Atlanta kid, and I love Atlanta, I’ll do anything for the city.”