A little more than a week ago I wrote what I believed would happen in the Lions' contract negotiations with so to be free agent DE Cliff Avril. I envisioned a 10 step process, and step 3 was this:
3. With the free agency deadline approaching, the Lions finally stick the franchise tag on Avril, because they aren't stupid. 25 year old defensive ends with double digit sack talent don't just grow on trees or fall into your lap in every draft.
This morning the Lions reached step 3.
Dave Birkett of the Freep:
But with free agency fast approaching and a long-term deal still out of reach, the Lions had little choice but to use the franchise tag on their most productive pass rusher today.
The Lions used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Avril. The exclusive tag would prevent other teams from trying to sign Avril and guarantee him a one-year salary the average of the top five defensive ends in the league, about $10.6 million. Under the non-exclusive tag, the Lions have the right to match any offer to Avril or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
"I've been franchised? NOOOOOOOOOO!"
Being franchised all but confirms Avril will be a Detroit Lion in 2012. No team in their right mind will both sign Avril for what would be an expensive long-term contract and lose a pair of 1st round picks in the process. It's not happening. Avril is worth plenty...but not two 1st round picks worth of plenty.
But if some team is crazy enough to fork over two 1st round picks, I'm sure the Lions will be more than willing to take them. Cap relief and 1st round picks are not a bad fall back position if Avril does find a suitor willing to pay the price. Realistically, I don't see that scenario happening. Forget about it and move on...
Avril and his representation have ******* long and loud over not wanting to be tagged. Not a big deal, all about to be franchised players do so. But the Lions had no choice in tagging Avril, for the aforementioned reasons. Young, talented pass rushing DE's are an extremely valuable commodity, and the Lions could not risk losing one of the better ones in the NFL. If it means pissing off Avril, so be it. Avril won't be so pissed when he and the Lions finally agree to a contract.
In the long run, I would have no problem with the Lions keeping Avril. Ask Wayne Fontes how neccesary a passing rushing DE is in the NFL. He spent most of the 90's looking for a DE "who could block out the sun." He never found one.
As great as it is the Lions are all but guaranteed of keeping Avril on the defensive line, it also places them in scary salary cap Hell. Approximately half of their cap is tied up in the contracts of Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson and now Cliff Avril, who will be a one year $10.6MM cap hit unless the Lions can come to terms on a back loaded long-term back deal.
Let's not forget the Lions have several free agents they would like to keep, including the unrestricted LB Stephen Tulloch and long-time starting OLT Jeff Backus, and the restricted LB DeAndre Levy. There's only so much money to go around, and the Lions are finding themselves stretched thin.
Thus, out of several on going contract negotiations, the Lions' most important won't be with any of their free agents (or free agents they would like to recruit). It'll be with Megatron, as the Lions need their All-World WR to restructure his deal, which currently stands at a cap crippling $21MM for the coming season.
If the Lions and Megatron can come to an amicable agreement, all is well. The Lions will have some (not a lot, but some) cap flexibility. Enough to re-sign their most important free agents, and make a few other moves. Otherwise, it's going to be a white knuckle ride as the Lions would have some scary player decisions to make. And by player decisions, I mean contracts to be lopped off with malice.
Currently, the Lions are caught between Avril and a hard place. It's not a place they can't get out from, but it will take some serious cap creativity. Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew have work to do, especially with their calculators.