Franchising Avril better than losing him

INDIANAPOLIS -- Although it is not the preferred option, using the franchise tag on Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril appears to be more palatable to general manager Martin Mayhew than letting him depart via free agency.

That's what I got out of Friday's rare media availability with Mayhew, who made clear Avril is a high-enough priority to make the pain of a franchise situation worthwhile. Mayhew doesn't often speak with the media, but on Friday we got a clear view of the high value he has placed on ensuring Avril's return.

"I think the thing with Cliff is he is a young player," Mayhew said. "He is a talented player. He plays a critical position in our defense. We've been trying to get to this point where we are, where we can win 10 games, where we can get to the playoffs. [That makes it] hard to let a player like Cliff Avril go.

"From our standpoint, we really want to get a long-term deal with him. We have a chance to get a long-term deal done. It's not really a good option for us to franchise Cliff. That's not appealing to me. It's not appealing to Cliff. We don't want to do that.

"But the worst option is to play without Cliff. We don't want to play without him, either. The franchise tag, you're taking a guy at a high cap number for one year, and two, you're probably going to revisit the issue in a year, too. It doesn't solve anything, so we want to get something done long term and solve it."

The Lions have until March 5 to strike that deal before hitting the franchise-tag deadline. The tag would consume some $11 million in cap space at a time when the Lions are trying to lower receiver Calvin Johnson's $22 million cap number, but Mayhew indicated that franchising Avril wasn't contingent on getting a new deal with Johnson.

So if losing Avril is a worse outcome than using the franchise tag, then I expect this situation to be resolved -- one way or the other -- in the next 10 days.