Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
My musical taste typically stray from punk, but I have a warm spot in my heart for The Clash. Combat Rock was one of the first cassettes I ever bought, and my familiarity with their music bought me some desperately desired street cred with the middle school ruffians on the school bus. My favorite song from that album is the one that hardcore punk fans loathe the most from their catalog, Should I Stay or Should I Go? That song is now over 30 years old (gulp!) but it has a practical and modern prescience for the Detroit Lions.
Should he stay or should he go now? That is the question the Lions face with free agent defensive end Cliff Avril.
The indecisions bugging me
Detroit and Avril faced the same issue last offseason. The two sides could not resolve their contractual impasse, so the Lions used the franchise tag on Avril. That paid Avril $10.6M for one year after he purportedly rejected a 3 yr/$30M deal. The negotiations were not really contentious or acrimonious, but the two sides never appeared real interested in working out a deal.
If he goes there will be trouble
Avril has 20.5 sacks over the last two seasons, along with eight forced fumbles, a pick-six INT and three fumble recoveries. He ranks 10th in total QB disruptions (sacks + hits + hurries) over those two seasons. The Lions have already released the other starting defensive end Kyle VandenBosch, and top rotational reserve Lawrence Jackson is an unrestricted free agent as well. The only defensive end on the roster is Willie Young, who has 3 sacks in two seasons and was a big disappointment in 2012. Technically Young is a restricted free agent, so he’s not actually on the roster either, but he will be a Lion in 2013. After the inside tandem of Suh and Fairley and their 17.5 sacks, the returning Lions combined for exactly 1.5 sacks, one by Jonte Green and a half sack for Stephen Tulloch.
If he stays there will be double
The Lions have to make some hard choices because of salary cap issues. Matt Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, and Calvin Johnson account for over $52M of a $121M cap in 2013, a terrific amount to pay three players. Avril will command at least the 3 year/$30M contract he turned down last year. Even with some creative money management, Avril would cost at least $8M against the cap in 2013 at that price. That’s half the available cap for just four players. The other 47 players (the cap figure counts just the top 51 contracts) would have to average just over $1.1M in cap figures for 2013. Stephen Tulloch, Rob Sims, Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson, and Tony Scheffler eat up over $21M in cap figures, leaving about $38M for 42 players. Just by sheer function of cap compliance when factored in with some other veterans (Fairley, Backus, Hill, Raiola) at least 13 players would have to play for the league minimum or rookie free agent deals. That is not a recipe for success for a coaching staff widely perceived to be feeling the heat.
It’s always tease tease tease
Avril has always been a bit of a tease. He tantalizes with his edge speed, and he has produced some dominating performances (ask the Bears or Phil Loadholt). Yet 20.5 sacks is not elite production, and Avril’s run defense is a distinct and bewildering disappointment. He consistently struggles with runs right at him, and he doesn’t chase down a lot of plays like a Chris Long or Jared Allen, two players his agent will want him compared with for contract purposes. Avril failed to record more than two tackles in all but 3 games in 2012, one less than the output from 2011. In short, the production doesn’t match the potential very often.
Exactly who I’m supposed to be
Avril figures to have more value for teams that run a 3-man front and will use him as an outside linebacker. That is probably a better fit for his skills, too; Avril is at his best lined up wide in a two point stance, attacking the edge and turning the corner with some nice, polished edge moves and speed. Interestingly, that seems to be where the market demand is this offseason. Cleveland and New Orleans are switching to a 3-4 and both have a distinct need for a player like Avril. Indianapolis made the transition last year and also figures to have significant interest. The Browns and Colts have enough cap room to offer Avril more than the Lions can possibly carve free. The clothes that fit Avril appear cut from a 3-4 cloth, though it’s not an ideal fit.
If you don’t want me, set me free
It’s hard to let someone like Avril walk away. He’s just hitting his prime at 27 years old this fall. He has produced at a strong level and knows the defense, plus there is a hole bigger than the city of Detroit’s budget shortfall at his position should Avril leave. He is not going to give the Lions a hometown discount, nor should he. The NFL is often a cold business and players must maximize their opportunities to cash in. This is Avril’s time, and the Lions must set him free.