Speaking last month at the NFL scouting combine, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said the only thing worse than using the franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril was the prospect of losing him via free agency. So for that reason, we had every reason to believe the Lions would tag Avril if they couldn't agree to a long-term contract before Monday.
And that's exactly what has happened, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter and others. Avril is the second NFC North player to receive the franchise tag, joining Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte, and would have the equivalent of a one-year contract worth about $11 million if nothing changes between now and the 2012 season. As a non-exclusive franchise player, Avril has the right to sign with another team if it's willing to part with a pair of first-round draft choices. Such steep compensation makes movement for franchise players highly unlikely.
Because the Lions have never seemed to waver on Avril's future, the real question has always been how his franchise number would impact the rest of the Lions' already-tight salary cap structure. They will have a cap charge of nearly $11 million for Avril, and as we discussed in January, they already are carrying high cap charges for receiver Calvin Johnson (about $22 million), quarterback Matthew Stafford (about $17 million), defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (about $12.7 million) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (about $7.7 million).
If those numbers don't change, the Lions would have about $70 million in cap space committed to five players. Unless Johnson or Avril agree to contract extensions that lower their 2012 cap numbers, the Lions' offseason shopping will be limited. Among the possible repercussions could be the departure of middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
As we've noted many times, there are plenty of cap tricks to squeeze in players for a given year. The cost, of course, is future flexibility. The Lions have weighed their options, and losing Avril wasn't one they were prepared to absorb.