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Lions View Franchise Tag As Last-Resort Option For Cliff Avril

Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew talked quite openly about the situation with defensive end and soon-to-be free agent Cliff Avril on Friday. Recently, the lack of progress in the negotiations between the Lions and Avril has spilled over into the press. The Avril camp mentioned that talks are moving slowly and brought up the possibility of a holdout if the franchise tag is used. Friday was Mayhew's first real chance to respond to Avril's comments, and he reiterated that the Lions don't want to use the franchise tag unless they absolutely have to.

"We have not made a decision on Cliff," Mayhew said when asked if the team had plans to franchise him. "We are still going to work on getting a long-term deal done. Certainly it is not our desire to franchise Cliff. Franchising him is not a good option for us. The only worse option is playing without him."

If the Lions and Avril aren't able to agree on a deal by March 5, chances are he will be franchised. That is the last day the franchise tag can be given out. If the Lions decided not to use it and no deal was in place, Avril would become an unrestricted free agent on March 13. If that were to happen, it's likely he wouldn't be coming back to Detroit since some other team would have the chance to make him a big offer.

Based on Mayhew's comments, I wouldn't expect to hear anything about if the franchise tag will be used until deadline day. There is no point for the Lions to place it on him until they absolutely have to, and the hope for both sides at this point is for something to be worked out before then. If no deal is in place, then the franchise tag probably will be entered into the equation. Avril very well may decide to hold out if that happens, but Mayhew is aware of that possibility and doesn't seem to be too upset by the threat.

"So whatever happens with Cliff, it's a business decision. If we were to franchise him and he were to hold out, that's a business decision that Cliff makes, if he thinks that's the best thing for him. I respect his ability to handle his business."

Regardless of what happens from here, the Lions have made it 100 percent clear they do want Avril back next season and beyond. Avril actually expressed some doubt over if they truly want him back earlier this week, but I think Jim Schwartz shut the door on that being a possibility when he addressed the media at the NFL Combine on Thursday.

"Cliff is obviously a guy that is very important to us. He fits our scheme well, he (was) an impact player last year. Had 11 sacks, a lot of forced fumbles; a couple of games he sorted of iced; an interception late against San Diego that sealed our playoff bid; a sack and a strip in a couple of games that really made a difference for us."

Schwartz also made it clear that he wants linebacker Stephen Tulloch and offensive tackle Jeff Backus -- two other soon-to-be free agents -- back next season.

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