Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Big Decision: Lions DE Cliff Avril
By Kevin Seifert
Previewing some of the big decisions facing NFC North teams early in the 2012 offseason:
It's been a while since the Detroit Lions have faced the kind of dilemma they have with defensive end Cliff Avril, a homegrown talent and pending free agent who is in line for a budget-busting contract.
A four-year veteran out of Purdue, DE Cliff Avril has played in at least 13 games a season for the Lions.
Edge pass rushers are among the most valuable commodities in the NFL, and in 2011, Avril broke out with 11 sacks and a league-high six forced fumbles. He also scored touchdowns on separate fumble and interception returns, showing the kind of athleticism that could make him a fit in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.
The Lions, of course, are in a tight cap situation that will make for what general manager Martin Mayhew has acknowledged will be his most challenging offseason. Four players — receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch — are projected to account for half of the $120 million cap in 2012. That leaves the Lions about $60 million in cap space to squeeze in 47 other players, including Avril if they want.
One option is to use the franchise tag, which would require about $10.6 million in cash and cap commitment to Avril for 2012 and leave him unsigned thereafter. A long-term contract isn't likely to count much less against the 2012 cap unless the Lions artificially backload it and create a bigger headache in future seasons.
The starting point for negotiations with Avril would almost certainly be the six-year, $72 million contract the Carolina Panthers gave defensive end Charles Johnson last season.
Like Avril, Johnson was 25 and emerging from a career year (11.5 sacks) as he entered free agency. The Panthers were motivated by the belief that a division rival, the Atlanta Falcons, would try to sign him on the open market, and in the end gave Johnson a deal that guaranteed him $34 million. Of that total, $30 million was in the form of a signing bonus that could be spread out over the life of the contract. His cap number was $10 million in 2011 and will fluctuate between $11 million and $16 million over the next five years.
Either way, the Lions probably would have to devote around $11 million in cap space toward retaining Avril for 2012. Is that a wise investment for a team that has about $20 million in 2012 cap space already devoted to a pair of other defensive linemen? Suh is projected to count for $12.7 million, while Vanden Bosch is around $7.7 million.