The Detroit Lions officially placed the franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril this morning. The move came ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline to designate the franchise tag for the 2012 offseason, and already there has been a lot of chatter about what this means going forward. Here's a breakdown with a look at the situation from the perspective of both the Lions and Avril.
What this means for the Lions
The Lions will be on the hook for approximately $10.6 million by franchising Avril. Of course, this assumes no new deal is worked out and Avril isn't signed by another team or traded. If Avril were to sign an offer sheet with another team, the Lions could match the offer or let Avril go and receive two first-round picks as compensation. That's unlikely, so essentially this move gives the Lions more time to negotiate with Avril. The two sides have until July 15 to work out a multi-year deal. After that, Avril can either sign the franchise tag tender or sit out the 2012 season.
As far as the salary cap ramifications go, the Lions now have half of their salary cap committed to Avril, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, according to Dave Birkett. This is the result of years of high draft picks, but it's also a sign that the Lions have some talented "core" players. Unfortunately, they all have big cap numbers for 2012, including Avril if he and the Lions don't work out a long-term deal.
What this means for Avril
Avril will not hit the open market when free agency begins on March 13. However, he will be able to negotiate with other teams since the Lions used the non-exclusive franchise tag. As mentioned, a team would have to find him worth two first-round picks if they tried to sign him, so in all likelihood, that isn't going to happen. As a result, Avril is basically bound to return to Detroit. He can decide not to sign the franchise tender, but if a new deal isn't worked out by July 15, Avril's options are limited to signing or sitting out the next season. I doubt he's going to leave $10.6 million on the table, so chances are he will sign the tender at some point if a new deal doesn't come about.
What this means for 2012
Barring something extremely unforeseen, Avril will be a Lion next season. The important thing in the coming months is for a long-term deal to be worked out so Avril is set to be a Lion for years to come and so his cap hit isn't $10.6 million. That's a lot to commit to a player with the salary cap situation being so tight, but the Lions really like Avril and didn't want to have him hit the open market and go elsewhere. Sure, there's the risk of not getting something of the long-term variety done, and he could always decide to simply not sign the tender no matter what. Even so, that risk is worth taking considering the risk of letting him go very well could have resulted in him ending up elsewhere and forcing the Lions to try and stop him from getting to Matthew Stafford for years to come.
While this situation is far from ideal, franchising Avril was really the safe move. Cap problems aside, the Lions will either retain Avril's services or get two first-round picks for him if he signs a deal that isn't matched, so this is far from the end of the world for the team.