Eric Thomas: Cliff Avril And Why I Am Sick Of Loyalty

The Lions dropped a non exclusive franchise tag on Cliff Avril and he claims he is “blessed”. He ought to be. Cliff Avril just got a 9.4 million dollar raise. That’s an outrageous amount of money for the defensive end. I understand that the franchise tag could be temporary but Avril should embrace it. Financially it’s a great move for Avril but it’s a stupid move for the Lions.

Let’s start with saying that Cliff Avril is a good player. I think that he has tremendous upside and he is young. The Lions went into the off season with signing Avril as a priority but this is ridiculous. Avril is a fine player but he is not a 10 million a year defensive end. Sorry. If the third year player out of Purdue thinks that he is in the Jared Allen and Justin Tuck club, he has to be allowed to leave.

Avril wants the kind of money that is reserved for the elite. The kind of guy that you build a team around. Avril is not that guy. There are already guys on the D line that you are building around. Suh had a sophomore slump and we may be mad at him but he is the star on the D line. Nick Fairley was a first round pick and if he can get on the field he can be a force. Signing the players that play around those guys to 10 million dollar deals does not wash.

Good teams lose good players. This is how the NFL works. You have a small group of core players (usually 4 or 5 but it can be as little as 1) and then you rotate guys in and out through the draft and free agency. We haven’t seen this in Detroit for a while. It makes a lot of sense for free agents to come into Detroit and play around Suh and Fairley because it will pad their numbers for a big deal next year. Guys come in on a rental, do well and leave. Many players have done it for many other teams. Detroit has historically been the team that gets pantsed by free agents coming out of their rental deal.

Just because Avril has been “franchised” doesn’t mean that there is extra cap space. Avril’s cap number for next year is $10 million. You could get 2 positions of need for that kind of money. So why are the Lions doing it? I have absolutely no idea and I hate it. Cliff Avril is a fine player but he is NOT an elite player. All we can do is pray that some stupid team comes up with an offer and is willing to give up a first round draft pick which is not going to happen. The NFL Draft has become even more valuable since the rookie salary cap so we are stuck with Avril and his newly minted 10 million cap hit for next year.

$10 million for Cliff Avril takes the Lions out of the running on a lot of things. Megatron is going to be harder to resign. The free agent market this year looks pretty grim. This means we are going into the 2012 season with sky high expectations, no significant defensive secondary help (rookies aren’t significant) and questions about our uber-talented game changing wide receiver. I got depressed just writing that! I understand why the Lions have valued Avril because he was a great value before but now he is vastly overpaid.

The Lions seem to have fallen into an awful pattern. Detroit teams seem to value loyalty more than most cities. We have seen it for years. Brandon Inge was signed to a massive deal (for him) even though his career was clearly entering the twilight (if it ever flourished). Magglio Ordonez was signed to a deal that clearly was loaded with legacy bonuses. Steve Yzerman was kept for around three years longer than he needed to be, eschewing other free agents to keep him. What did fans get for these loyalties? Brandon Inge was DFA’d last year when he was turning in a sub .100 average, Ordonez spent much of season either injured or ineffective and the Captain is the GM of Tampa Bay and will probably not participate in the reunion skate at Comerica Park. The problem with loyalty is the loyal usually wind up looking like chumps in the end.

I am so tired of this theme of loyalty running through Detroit sports. We keep players past their prime just because they gave us a moment in time or we make fan favorites millionaires when the rest of the league wouldn’t even take them as free agents. When a fan favorite is axed there is a fan murmur but then it goes away. Does anyone really long for the days of Cory Schlesinger or Robert Porcher? Sure it hurts for a minute to see those guys go but in the end its better for the team.

Cliff Avril is only the latest version of this. If the Lions have any interest in becoming an elite team in the NFL, you have to let some players go.


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