INDIANAPOLIS Putting the franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril is not an option Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew wants to use with the free-agency signing period three weeks away.
Mayhews priority in talks with Avril and his agent is to reach agreement on a long-term contract.
Avril is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13. The deadline for applying the franchise tag, which greatly restricts a players ability to get offers from other teams, is March 5.
Avril would be a prime target to be signed by another team if he hits the free-agent market. Avril had 11 sacks last season, his fourth with the Lions, and was among the NFL leaders in fumbles cause and recovered.
Mayhews comments on Avril were made in a lengthy interview with the Detroit media at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday morning.
Among other issues Mayhew addressed were other Lions who have contract issues wide receiver Calvin Johnson is at the top of that list and those eligible for free-agency, and college prospects in various position groups who are attending the Combine.
Regarding other Lions veterans, Mayhew stressed that wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive tackle Corey Williams have been told that there are no plans to release either player because of their contract situations. Both are starters.
Avrils status was foremost in the discussion, partly because of Avrils recent comments about not wanting to have the franchise tag applied to him.
We have not made a decision on Cliff, Mayhew said. Were still going to work on getting a long-term deal done.
Certainly, its not our desire to franchise Cliff. We dont want to do that. Were hopeful we can get something long-term done. I think its the best thing for him and the best thing for us.
Franchising him is not a good option for us. The only worse option is playing without him. We dont want to play without him.
Despite the stated intention to avoid using the franchise tag, Mayhew did not rule out applying it. It would give Avril a one-year contract worth about 10.6 million, but Avril has said he would consider not reporting if he is tagged.
The tag does not take effect if a player does not sign the tender offer, thus making him immune from discipline from the team for missing any official team functions, such as mandatory offseason mini-camps and training-camp practice.
It just means what it means, Mayhew said of his stance on the tag. Franchising him is not something we want to do. Thats the point Im trying to make. Its not our desire.
We want to have him on a long-term deal. We definitely dont want to play without him.
Mayhew addressed the following issues:
The Lions continue to work on extending Johnsons contract. The 2012 season is the last on the 6-year contract Johnson signed in 2007 when the Lions drafted him second overall.
Johnson is due a bonus of about 7 million, which will make his salary-cap number for 2012 about 12 million.
Working out a long-term deal with Johnson would give the Lions more room under the 2012 salary cap projected to be about 120 million but its not mandatory for the Lions to execute their plan to re-sign their on free agents, Mayhew said.
We can handle Calvins number if we have to, Mayhew said. Obviously, wed have more flexibility , more cap room, so we have a desire to get that done. But we have a way to handle his number.
Lions free agents
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, offensive tackle Jeff Backus, cornerback Eric Wright and backup quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton can be free agents, and Mayhew wants them all back.
In Stantons case, he is looking to upgrade his status and compete for playing time. If he signs elsewhere, the Lions will look for another backup quarterback.
2012 draft strengths: There are a number of good cornerbacks. Offensive line is stronger and deeper at guard than at tackle, and defensive line is deep, as usual.
The linebacker class is not deep in players who fit the Lions profile for the position.
We get real specific on some of our physical characteristics that we look for at certain positions, Mayhew said That kind of thinned it out for us at linebacker, for example.
Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama and Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama have had off-field issues that have raised questions.
Mayhew talked with Jenkins at the Senior Bowl in January.
We talked to Janoris at the Senior Bowl and plan to talk to some other guys here whove had some off-the-field situations, Mayhew said. We evaluate those on an individual basis.
The linebacker from Arizona State has drawn considerable attention from draft followers for his ability and his propensity to get personal fouls in batches.
He doesnt have a lot of off-the-field issues, Mayhew said. He had some things on the field. Youve got to get to the bottom of why that is, and does that continue?