The inability for the Detroit Lions and defensive end Cliff Avril to reach a long-term deal is a disappointing result for everyone involved.
In the last few days, Avril has even remarked that he won't attend the team's first day of training camp on July 26, even threatening to potentially not show at all.
While no one knows what the future holds for sure, it's clear that the Lions wanted to lock up their most productive pass-rusher, while Avril coveted the security of a long-term pact laced with guaranteed money.
But despite a shared disappointment, both sides made calculated business decisions with their own interests in mind (a necessary function of successful business).
The gap separating the two sides was reported to be a small one but was ultimately unbridgeable.
On one side stood Avril, with the understanding that he earned the right to more than an alleged three-year, $30 million offer. How much more isn’t clear.
Avril isn’t wrong either. Defensive ends with comparable production have secured more lucrative deals. Arizona Cardinals’ defensive end Calais Campbell is a great example. He was given a reported five-year deal worth $55 million, despite producing only eight sacks and four forced fumbles in 2011. When you consider Avril had 11 sacks and six forced fumbles in the same amount of games, his belief gains merit.
Of course, it’s difficult to compare the players, as Avril plays in a defensive system designed to maximize his opportunities for sacks by putting a large emphasis on rushing the passer from the defensive end position.
Still, in a league where every contract you sign could be your last, you can’t blame a player for cashing in when he can to provide long-term security for himself and his family (Avril is the father of a young child).
On the other side of the gap stands the Detroit Lions.
The desire to sign Avril long term was present but the financial resources may not have been.
The Lions must be conscious of the fact that key players will need to be re-signed in the near future.
Among those players is safety Louis Delmas, who is still playing out his rookie contract. Delmas is one of the most important players on the defense and will command a significant raise over a base salary that should be a little under $1 million in 2012.
In addition to Delmas, defensive tackles Sammie Hill and Corey Williams both have expiring contracts with Linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy also set to become unrestricted. Lastly, top cornerback Chris Houston rounds out the key defensive players that may have the option to leave in 2013.
The Lions already are pressed against the cap, so players like Delmas, Houston, Levy and Hill could be difficult to resign as they will have the opportunity to earn raises over their slated 2012 salaries.
Also, it is important to remember that the Lions have to be prepared to pay quarterback Matthew Stafford, who could play himself into a $100-plus million contract if he is able to remain healthy in 2012. Additionally, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh figures to command the largest salary of the team’s defense for the foreseeable future.
With all that considered, it is difficult for the Lions to restrict their salary cap flexibility, especially for a position of strength.
If Avril departs next season, the Lions could go to the draft for a replacement while increasing the workload of Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson. However, if Houston or Delmas leave, the team would have to bank on young, mid-to-low-round draft choices to fill the void.
The NFL is a business, and both Avril and the Lions operated with their best interests in mind.