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Avril gives Lions moral center they need after offseason transgressions

by | National NFL Insider
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Ndamukong Suh (left) has often made the wrong kinds of headlines; Cliff Avril (right) has not. (Getty Images)  
Ndamukong Suh (left) has often made the wrong kinds of headlines; Cliff Avril (right) has not. (Getty Images)  

Cliff Avril of the Detroit Lions is asked about his team's offseason turmoil. Turmoil isn't the word. More like mushroom cloud. Avril is intelligent, thoughtful and blunt. His words do not receive a mincing when speaking of the chaos on his own team.

"We all do stupid things whether you're an NFL player or not," said Avril in an interview with CBSSports.com. "The Lions aren't a bunch of bad guys or thugs. But it is true that some of the young guys on our team need to think before they act. They still don't understand that in the NFL, everything you do is magnified.

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"The guys that did this, they weren't the big contributors last year. We need them and I don't mean to say we don't. What I'm saying is they don't represent the Lions. The vast majority of us don't do stuff like that. The guys that ran into problems need to understand their actions impact everyone on the team from a public perception. We just ask that people not judge our entire team by the actions of a few guys."

Not many could have said it better.

One thing Avril says he emphasizes to players coming into the league is that players are a replaceable commodity. "The NFL eventually weeds out the troubled guys," he said, "and guys with no discipline."

Avril said coach Jim Schwartz addressed the Lions during a team meeting in light of the recent incidents involving the multiple arrests of Lions players including Nick Fairley being arrested twice. Because of Avril's contract situation (more on that in a moment) he wasn't at the meeting "but from what I've heard from the guys it was a pretty good speech."

In many ways, Avril is the defensive equivalent of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Give me a moment to explain. The Saints mainly need Brees because he's one of the best throwers in the NFL but they also need him for public relations. Bountygate ... maybe you've heard of it?

The Lions are in a similar position. By all accounts, Avril is a solid guy, and by all accounts, the Lions need some good news and beneficial PR. Avril was designated the Lions' franchise player and July 16 is the final day for franchise players to sign long-term contracts. At times, Avril sounds optimistic a deal with get done.

Then, in others, he doesn't seem so sure. When asked what if a deal didn't get finalized, Avril said, "Then we'll have a situation, I guess." What does that mean, he was asked. "We'll have a situation," he repeated, laughing.

"I don't know what I'm going to do if something doesn't happen," he said. "I'm just crossing my fingers we don't ever reach that point."

Avril is critical to the franchise because he's one of the few stable elements in the isotope that are the Lions. This is a dangerous team, and not just off the field, but especially on it. There are more than a few people around football that believe the Lions have the offensive firepower to hang with the Green Bay Packers and the defensive potential to at least slow Aaron Rodgers. That is, the Lions get their collective heads out of the bars and clubs and into the meeting rooms. If the Lions can control their tempers and temptations, this is a Super Bowl team. No question about it.

Avril agrees on the discipline aspect. "Here's the thing about us," he said, "no player on this team is satisfied we won 10 games last year. We know we can be a lot better and I'm guaranteeing you we will be a lot better. We won 10 games and still made a lot of mistakes.

"We screwed up a lot of the little things. Some games we got down early big, some games we made dumb mistakes with not being disciplined with the personal fouls, the dumb penalties. So what we're going to emphasize this season is being smart. It's time we start being smart football players as a team. If we do that it'll be hard to stop us."

Avril is always interesting and he's right about everything he says. The question becomes can the Lions back up Avril's words and become the more focused Detroit team he envisions? Or are there more DUIs or leg stomps in Detroit's future.

"I don't think you'll see that Lions team again," Avril said, "we're going to be a different group next year. Just watch."

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