By July 16 at 4 p.m. the Lions and Avril must have a deal done, and according to Avril himself, the odds seem good that it will happen. Appearing on SiriusXM radio Tuesday, Avril said among other things that he's optimistic he'll have a new deal soon, and that the Lions have seen the talent and improvement in him which justifies such a long term commitment.
While that's fine and good, I've got one piece of advice to provide the Lions before they hand out another long deal to a defensive lineman: be careful. Avril is said to be seeking a four or five year deal worth close to $10 million per season. Even if the Lions wiggle that number down to $7 or $8 million a year, that's still a lot of money for somebody who's impact on the game can be intermittent. The Lions already have Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley locked into their line long term. Is there room for yet another bigger, multi-year deal up front?
There's no doubt Avril has improved and is a dominant pass rusher, but there's high risk at play when giving high dollar, long term deals to defensive ends. It's a position that's effect on the game can be easily limited with the short passing game or an excellent ground attack, and it's also a position where collisions and contortions can lead to damaging injuries, and where age can sometimes creep in faster than anyone wants to admit.
Consider this: in 2011, Dwight Freeney made over $14 million dollars playing for the Indianapolis Colts on his deal. Though he was good for at least 10 sacks a game from 2008-2010, those numbers sharply declined in 2011 as age and injury have caught up. At 26, Avril is still in his prime, but nobody can predict the future. What happens if injuries take their toll and he slows down by age 29? It's a tired cliche, but in a salary cap world, every potential circumstance exactly like this must be carefully considered, even if they seem farfetched.
As I wrote several months ago, the Lions would be better served not to get locked in long term with Avril or any additional defensive linemen. With the middle of the line set and the linebackers much improved, the Lions could stand to fill the end positions with rookie players they develop or reclaimed veterans and still have a dominant defense. Think players in the Lawrence Jackson mold. That would allow the money to be spread out a bit more in the future. With his 11 sacks in 2011, Avril was a definite force, but he wasn't the exclusive reason the team had success. He'll need to keep that production consistent in 2012.
It appears the Lions are set to bank on Avril as the third, big money piece of their defensive line for the future. There's no doubt he's earned this treatment, but it's also worth remembering there are many potential risks that also come with such a decision, especially where the defensive end position is concerned.
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