Starting next Monday (Feb. 18), NFL teams can officially apply the franchise tag to one of their free agents. This doesn't mean teams will rush out and actually apply it, but they have the ability to make their use of the franchise tag official. Teams have until March 4 to use it, giving them a couple extra weeks to come to a decision.
Last year, the Detroit Lions decided to use their franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril. With no long-term deal in sight and the Lions wanting to retain Avril, it made sense for him to get it. While it did put the Lions in a tough spot from a salary cap standpoint, they were of the mindset that keeping Avril would be important in making another playoff run.
This year, things are much different. Although Avril led the Lions in sacks last season and only one defensive end (Ronnell Lewis) is currently under contract, retaining him doesn't seem to be quite as big of a priority. Part of that stems from the fact that franchising Avril again would cost way too much money, and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said again last week that the team isn't likely going to use the franchise tag at all this year. From the Free Press:
Mayhew reiterated that the Lions, who have eight starters headed for free agency including defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Louis Delmas, are "not going to franchise anybody" this year. Asked why not, he said, "It doesn’t make sense for us right now."
The Lions would obviously like to bring back Avril, Delmas and Chris Houston. However, the ability to retain any of them via the franchise tag isn't worth the cost that comes along with using it. As a result, the Lions are likely going to let all three players make it to free agency. The hope will be that the market develops in a way that re-signing with the Lions makes sense for these players, but it's probably unlikely that all three will be back next season.