The biggest landmark on the upcoming horizon is March 12 – the open of free agency and the Detroit Lions have many players eligible for some form of it, including some key starters.
Let’s dive deeper into the most significant pending free agents for the Lions.
Today’s free agent focus: Cliff Avril
Avril ended 2011 as the team’s top pass rusher, registering 11 sacks, six forced fumbles and scoring two touchdowns. All of this while playing on a one-year tender, which he received as a restricted free agent.
As one would assume, Avril wanted a long term deal before 2011 but – when that failed to materialize – he signed his tender on the eve of training camp and felt he earned the contract and payday he was seeking.
Well, the long term deal never happened. In fact, the closest the team got to a deal was a three-year, $30 million dollar contract offer that Avril rejected.
So, similar to the year prior, Avril played under a one-year contract with no long-term security – although, this time it was accompanied by an eight-figure pay day ($10.6 Million).
The soon-to-be 27 year old struggled along with the rest of the team to reach the benchmarks established in 2011. With 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, Avril put up respectable totals but also had six games where he registered two or less tackles with no sacks.
It also should be noted that Avril suffered a back injury in a September loss to the Minnesota Vikings that kept him sidelined for several practices and may have lingered throughout the year. He also suffered a concussion in 2012.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has spent the last two years evaluating Avril’s value and will not be able to put off a decision any longer.
Franchising Avril is out of the question this year, so the team must either present a contract that is satisfactory to the five-year pro or let him walk for nothing.
Avril’s situation is compounded by many factors. First, he plays a position that is one of the highest paid in the league. Second, the team has only one defensive end – sophomore Ronnell Lewis – currently under contract.
Last year, some significant contracts were signed by defensive ends around the league. Each signing certainly is on Avril’s radar.
Mario Williams signed a six-year pact worth up to $100 million with $50 million guaranteed with the Buffalo Bills. These are undoubtedly appealing numbers to Avril – although one must take into account the fact that the deal gives the Bills opportunity to terminate the contact after two seasons.
Aiming for the contract Williams received might not be realistic but there are more comparable players out there that work favorably for Avril.
Carolina’s Charles Johnson signed a six-year, $72 million deal. Johnson has registered 37 sacks and 11 forced fumbles over the last four seasons compared to Avril’s 34.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. The two are the same age.
Arizona’s Calais Campbell, who is not the same mold of defensive end as Avril, signed a five-year, $55 million dollar deal with $31 million guaranteed. Campbell has registered seven less sacks and eight less forced fumbles than Avril over the last four seasons.
It is also important to note that both Johnson and Campbell re-signed with their respective clubs, so their contracts are not inflated through an open-market bidding war.
It seems that Avril should be in line for a deal spanning between five and seven years worth between $10 and $12 million per year and about 60 percent of the money guaranteed.
The only choice the Lions have is whether or not they want to pay him that much.
As the Lions have proven over the last two seasons by having Avril play on one-year deals, this is a business. There is no doubt that the player has the same right to look at contract negations from that same perspective.
Don’t expect Avril to be an exception.
"I don't know. It depends on the situation, honestly," said Avril on the likelihood of giving the Lions a discount during an interview with 'Pro Football Talk' on NBC Sports. "It depends on why I would be taking less money, first off. I don't know, but we just have to get the numbers going and we'll see. I really don't know if I would take less right now."
It doesn’t appear as if the career-long Lion is prepared to shun more lucrative offers to remain in Detroit. In fairness to Avril, there is no reason he should and – although some think his contract expectations are unrealistic – there is an established market value that suggests he is worth what he may be seeking.
"Last year, going into it, I felt like with all the deals made around me, that wasn't significant enough for what they were trying to offer me," said Avril during an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "I didn't think that was the right deal to take, so I just played the (franchise) tag. Here we are again. Hopefully, we can figure something out and get my worth."