Lions lucked out on Cliff Avril deal

PHOENIX -- What is the old saying? Sometimes, the best deals are the ones you don't make.

Last year around this time, the Detroit Lions offered defensive end Cliff Avril a three-year contract worth $30 million in lieu of making him their franchise player. Avril declined and played out the season with a $10.6 million salary and salary-cap number.

It's impossible to know the exact structure of the Lions' offer, but it's safe to assume Avril would have had a lower cap number in 2012 and a significantly higher one for this season. So in the end, his unchallenged free-agent departure this month allowed the Lions to use the cap space for at least two and maybe three other players. And as we'll note, it also provided a startling revelation of Avril's true value on the market.

Upon closer inspection of the numbers, Avril's two-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks could be viewed as a one-year, $6 million deal. (That total includes a $4.5 million signing bonus and a $1.5 million base salary.) The second year is guaranteed only for injury, meaning the Seahawks could release him before the fifth day of the 2014 waiver period and not owe him additional money, as long as he is not injured.

Avril will count $3.75 million against the Seahawks' salary cap this season, and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew told local reporters at the NFL owners meeting that "it probably would have cost us two players to bring him back." That's not an exaggeration when you realize that the 2013 salary cap numbers for running back Reggie Bush ($2 million) and defensive lineman Jason Jones ($1.83 million) add up to a total of $3.83 million.

This isn't to render a judgment on whether Avril made a good decision to turn down the Lions' offer. We like to use salary-cap numbers and financial figures to tell bigger stories, and the lesson here is simple. The Lions have some work ahead of them in replacing Avril on the field, but from a long-term perspective, they were fortunate he turned down last year's offer.