Justin Wenzel, DLD Contributor
As the season comes to a close, the Lions front office has to deal with the same problem as last year; what do they do with Defensive End Cliff Avril?
Avril, the Lions 3rd round pick in 2008, is scheduled to be a free agent for the second straight offseason. Last offseason, the Lions slapped a $10.6 million franchise tag on Avril after negotiations went nowhere.
If the Lions wanted to franchise tag Avril again, it will cost them a good amount of cash. Last year, Avril received $10.6 million, the average of the top 5 salaries for defensive ends in 2012. This year, the Lions would have to pay Avril $12.7 million, or 120% of his salary from last season. Most likely Avril is seeking a contract larger than the 3 year, $30 million the Lions offered last year. Avril won’t look to cash in like Mario Williams (6 year, $100 million), but it would be safe to say Avril wants at least $12 million per year.
Is Cliff Avril worth the $12 million per year price tag? Through 15 games, Avril has 9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, placing him in a tie for the 7th most sacks with Rams DE Robert Quinn. Avril is regarded around the league as a top tier defensive end and an asset the Lions would like to keep on the team.
With minimal cap room, the Lions will struggle with trying to match an offer a team will make to Avril. A team like the Indianapolis Colts could make a move after Avril with their $43 million cap space. Indianapolis runs a 3-4 defense and while Cliff is better suited for a 4-3, I doubt Avril would refuse to make a position change similar to the one Mario Williams had if he was promised a big pay day. Another potential landing spot could be Tennessee, who will most likely shed Matt Hasselbeck’s contract and be left with around $20 million dollars of cap space.
The Lions also have a bunch of starters that are going to need new deals in the near future. Stafford and Suh are both going to need new deals in the next two years, and this year alone the Lions have a ton of free agents including Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy, Louis Delmas, Lawrence Jackson, Joique Bell, Sammie Lee Hill, Willie Young, and Gosder Cherilus.
With so many key players becoming free agents, Avril in a Lions jersey next season seems like less and less of a reality and it leaves a big hole that the Lions would have to fill. “No problem. We have Willie Young and Laurence Jackson!” say many fans. But Jackson is an unrestricted free agent, and Willie Young is a restricted free agent, meaning there is potential neither player is on the roster next year.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young both ranked in the bottom ten of their pressure productivity stat through the first third of the season. Jackson ranked at 75th out of 85 at a 5.3 rating and Young was 81/85 with a measly 3.6. While both players could become potential replacements, neither has proven that they can play full time at level as high as Avril has.
With a draft littered with defensive line talent, this would be the year the Lions have the best shot at replacing Avril, should he choose to leave, and finding a successor for the aging Kyle VandenBosch.
Lions fans should not be too surprised when Avril chooses to walk for better money elsewhere.
This piece marks Justin Wenzel’s debut here at DetroitLionsDraft.com, and we are excited to welcome him as a regular contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @Jd_Wenzel.
Tags: Cliff Avril