There’s little doubt Cliff Avril had an excellent season. 11 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and a certainly big payday looming. The tandem of Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch combined for 19 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. Losing over half of that production would be a blow, but with the looming monster payday for Calvin Johnson it might have to be one the Lions need to take.
You’ll hear that the success of the Lions’ ends is due to the attention given to Ndamukong Suh, however this doesn’t appear to be completely true. Avril is a talented playeWhen Suh was suspended against the Vikings, Avril had a monster game. Avril produced 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and a forced fumble without the inside disruption of Suh, proving while he definitely benefits from Suh he’s not merely a product of him. The Lions would be wise to resign Avril, who claims a desire to say with Detroit, but only if his contract demands are acceptable. A franchise tag would put Avril in the $10 Million a year salary range–more than Suh makes. While a longer term deal in the $6 Million a year range might work for the Lions, it’s probably less than Avril could draw on the open market from teams not staring at a salary cap nightmare like the Lions. Expect the Lions to come in at that range, Avril’s response would be a clear indication of how much he truly wants to play here vs. getting paid.
If the Lions do lose Avril, which I would say is 60/40 at this point, Martin Mayhew has earned enough respect for us to believe that he’ll have a contingency plan in place. It would start with increased roles for Lawerence Jackson and Willie Young, both young players with a lot of ability. Jackson, a former 1st rounder, has been a pleasant surprise since the Lions acquired him from Seattle. He’s shown an ability to get pressure and has 10 1/2 sacks in 22 games with the Lions. While Jackson gives immediate production, a loss of Avril and an increased role for rangy Willie Young might be a blessing in disquise for the defense. Young has been buried on the depth chart but his playing time has gradually increased this season. Young was a 7th round pick by the Lions, and he’s show exceptional speed and strength but the most encouraging thing about him is that he’s played his best in big games. In one of the most underrated plays of the year, Young threw Cowboys offense tackle to the ground and got a game clinching sack of Tony Romo in the Lions comeback win vs. the Cowboys. Young also had a sack in the MNF game against the Bears, in the finale against the Packers and in the Wild Card game against the Saints.
$10 Million for Avril might be a hit the organization can’t take as Mayhew could make a medium sized splash in free agency without that cap hit. It would be a calculated risk, but don’t be suprised if Mayhew determines that a tandom of Young and Jackson could replace Avril. While we’re not sure if Avril’s potential replacement is on the roster, we know from nearly certain that there isn’t much in the depth chart to help the secondary and linebackers. As the Lions continue to succeed, these are the tough questions they’ll be faced with in the coming seasons.
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