Two of the players Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew discussed during his media session today were wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive end Cliff Avril. Johnson still has a year left on his deal, but because of how high his cap number will be in 2012 (reportedly around $20 million), there has been a lot of talk about him getting a new deal. There has also been talk about Avril getting a new deal, as he is set to become a free agent in March.
Let's first take a look at what Mayhew had to say about Avril. Specifically, note what Mayhew said about the franchise tag.
"I don't have any plans to (franchise Avril), but you never know what might happen.," Mayhew said. "We're going to approach Cliff about a long term deal and try to get something done and see what happens."
The situation sounds like the Lions will present Avril an offer for a long-term deal with the hopes of bringing him back. If the two sides can't work something out, however, it appears the Lions are willing to let Avril walk rather than franchise him and force him to return for the franchise tag number.
As for Johnson, obviously the Lions have no intention of letting him becoming a free agent next year, which is why the team is already starting to think about working out an extension.
"We definitely plan to work on an extension with him in the near future. That’s what our plan is," Mayhew said. "He’s got a big number but it’s workable."
The hope is that by working out a new deal now, the Lions could lessen the cap number for next year a bit. Their biggest issue this offseason very well may be trying to re-sign players and fit them all in under the salary cap. Extending Johnson and potentially lowering his cap number would go a long way toward helping the situation.
The other big part of extending Johnson now is that you wouldn't have to worry about him entering the final year of his deal next season. A player like Johnson, who was the top receiver in the league in 2011, isn't someone you want to have any contract issues with, and locking him down now rather than later would allow everybody to breathe a sigh of relief.
In any case, I think it's safe to say the theme of the 2012 offseason will be what the Lions do with guys that were on the team in 2011. Obviously there will be some signings in free agency and the draft will add new players, but as Mayhew said, "This year in free agency’s going to be a little bit different. We’re going to be more focused on bringing our guys back more so than going out and trying to find five or six guys from somewhere else."