As the offseason heats up for the Detroit Lions’ front office, decision time has finally come. The first decision made by general manager Martin Mayhew was to place the franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril.
The tag will keep Avril in Detroit for the 2012 season for $10.6 million. Both Avril and Mayhew have said that this isn’t ideal for either party, as both sides would like to see a long term deal get done. The Lions and Avril will have until July 15th to work out a new contract, or Avril will play the 2012 season under the franchise tag.
What this ultimately means is that the two parties are not close to reaching a deal, but the Lions are not prepared to lose their best pass rusher from a year ago.
While Mayhew and Avril both dislike this move, as a Lions fan, I love it. Although the Lions will be overpaying for Avril this year, tagging Avril makes a lot of sense to me.
The tag gives Avril another year to prove himself among the best defensive ends in the league. If he does it, the Lions will likely pay him the kind of money Avril is asking for at this point (which I speculate is in the ballpark of five years/ $40 million). If he doesn’t produce, the front office may cut ties with Avril and turn to younger players like Willie Young.
I like this move because it allows the franchise to see what they really have in Avril, who I believe still has something to prove if he wants to be paid as much as the best defensive ends in the league. For a relatively low risk, the Lions can give Avril another year while not putting up big bucks on a long term deal.
The problem is that it makes an already tight salary cap situation a little bit tighter.
Nate Burleson, Matthew Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh have all agreed to restructure their contracts this year to help open up cap space for Detroit. These three new contracts will free up just about $10 million, the same number Avril will be paid this year under the franchise tag.
Calvin Johnson is also working on a restructure, although details have not been released and the deal hasn’t been finalized.
The Lions would like to continue restructuring as many deals as possible so they can resign linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who remains unsigned. Free agency officially begins March 13th at 4pm ET, so look for the Lions to push the envelope and attempt to resign Tulloch as soon as possible.
The Lions’ offseason still has many question marks, but one thing is certain: Cliff Avril will suit up in Honolulu blue again in 2012.