Letting defensive end Cliff Avril walk into free agency is as risky for the Lions as his playing under a one-year deal was for his future earnings this year.
So with many big-money decisions on deck in Detroit, it’s hard to tell right now which side won the gamble.
“I don’t think the roulette table has stopped spinning yet,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t know if he won the bet yet or not. That’s a good question for him, though. But it’s not over yet. We’ll find out kind of where he is.”
Mayhew said immediately after the season he wouldn’t be using the franchise tag on Avril, who played under the $10.6 million tag last year. And with a snug salary cap situation and a lot of pending free agents, the Lions may not be able to do a long-term deal sufficient to his desires.
Avril turned down a three-year, $30 million offer last offseason, thinking he’d be able to trade up this year. While his sack numbers declined for the first time in his five NFL seasons, he still had 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, enough to make him quite rich in an open market.
Mayhew said that the combination of a pinched nerve in Avril’s back and the 4-12 Lions’ lack of leads and pass-rushing opportunities combined to depress Avril’s numbers.
“We didn’t play with a lot of leads,” Mayhew said. “We played with some leads last year, so we had some opportunities really to tee off and get our pass rush going, where everybody can just cut loose and just go. We didn’t have as many of those. That may have been a reason for some of the decline in sacks and quarterback fumbles.”
Avril has said the things nearly every free agent says about wanting to stay with his current team, but it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be a healthy market for him.