Neither party excited over the franchise tag and will continue to work toward a long-term deal

Posted Mar 5, 2012

There weren't any handshakes or slaps on the back in Allen Park Monday after designating the non-exclusive franchise tag to Cliff Avril before the 4 p.m. deadline.

The Lions aren't keen on paying Avril a one-year, $10.6 million contract that will force them to revisit the same issue again next offseason.

"It's not really a good option for us to franchise Cliff," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week. "That's not appealing to me. It's not appealing to Cliff.

"One, you're taking a guy at a high cap number for one year, and two you're probably going to re-visit the issue in a year again. It doesn't solve anything so we want to get something done long-term with him and solve it."

In layman's terms, the Lions are now renting Avril's services for one year at a very high price. That's not ideal for either side. Avril certainly wants the security of a long-term deal and the Lions want to lock up Avril's services for the foreseeable future at a friendlier cap number.

"Being franchised – I'm blessed and I'm definitely happy about being considered a player to give that tag to," Avril told Monday. "I just hope we can continue to negotiate and try to get something done."

Placing the tag on their best pass rusher shows that both sides are still a ways apart on a long-term deal, however, Monday's move bought both sides time to negotiate a friendlier, long-term deal.

The Lions last used their franchise tag on defensive tackle Cory Redding in 2007 but Redding later agreed on a seven-year, $49 million deal before he had to play under the tag.

The Lions are certainly hoping history repeats itself with Avril.

Avril, 25, has improved his sack total each season since being drafted in 2008 by the Lions. In 47 career games (44 starts), he has 30 sacks, 129 tackles, 14 forced fumbles, 12 passes defended and two touchdowns.

The team and Avril can continue to negotiate a long-term deal up until July 15. If the two sides can't agree to a deal before then, Avril will have to play under the franchise tag in 2012.

"My expectations are to continue to negotiate, continue to try to move forward and hopefully get something done," he said. "Regardless, I'll be in Detroit, so that's a plus.

"But I don't want to be in the same situation next year. Hopefully we'll figure something out. We'll see how it goes."

Avril and his agent, Brian Mackler, can negotiate a contract with other teams but the Lions have the right to match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks from a team that signs Avril away. Giving up two first round picks is normally a deal breaker for most teams.

The Lions now have until 4 p.m. March 13 – the first day of free agency – to fit Avril's $10.6 number under the cap.

As it stands right now, Avril, receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch account for more than half of the estimated $120 million salary cap for next season.

That's a lot of money to have tied into five players, even if they're the core of the team, and could make it difficult to sign some of their free agents.

The Lions are hoping to save money on a per-year basis by signing Avril long-term. They have the same hope for an extension with Johnson, who's entering the final year of his rookie contract with a $22 million cap number.

The Lions will continue to negotiate with Avril, but will likely shift most of their focus to extending Johnson's contract before March 13 so they'll have more money in the pot to work out deals for free-agents-to-be like linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Eric Wright and tackle Jeff Backus.