|Avril wants to stay in Detroit but would prefer to avoid the franchise tag. (US PRESSWIRE)|
By Ryan Wilson
Despite what Marshall Faulk might say, Matthew Stafford is a big reason that the Lions have gone from 0-16 in 2008 to 10-6 in 2011 and qualified for then playoffs for the first time since 1999. But Stafford and that high-powered offense wasn't the only reason.
Detroit's defense also had something to do with the organization's turnaround. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the unit ranked ninth overall last season, up from 22nd in 2010, and 32nd during the winless '08 season. So, yes, we tip our cap to you, Gunther Cunningham.
In an effort to keep the group together, the Lions are hoping to re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril, who would prefer a long-term deal over the franchise tag.
"I honestly don't know if they're going to franchise me or make a deal," Avril said Friday. "I want a deal, obviously."
On Friday evening, the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett writes that while two sources close to negotiations "stopped short of saying Avril definitely will be tagged, both said that’s the likely outcome if the two sides don’t agree on a long-term deal before March 5, the deadline for applying the tag."
Avril, 25, led the Lions with 11 sacks and six forced fumbles last season, and he'll be in demand should he hit the open market. If he's tagged, Avril can expect around $10.6 million which, thanks to the new CBA signed last July, is $2.6 million less than 2011 franchise tag.
As CBSSports.com's Will Brinson noted earlier this week, "Previously, the franchise-tag number was generated by averaging the top-five salaries at a position to determine a number for that position. This year, the franchise tag value will be a percentage of the overall salary cap figure for the previous five years."
But this isn't an either-or situation (or at least it doesn't have to be). Just because the two sides don't come to a long-term agreement prior to March 5 doesn't mean they can't at some point this offseason.
"The franchise tag actually doesn't exist simply to keep a guy around for another year without paying him big money," Brinson wrote Tuesday. "It's to keep a guy around while you work out a long-term contract.
As far as the Lions are concerned, Avril is an integral cog in what they want this defense to become, but issues remain. Detroit still needs depth at cornerback, which could be addressed in the first round of April's NFL Draft. First things first, however: keeping Avril, whether that means a long-term contract, the franchise tag or a combination of the two.
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