ALLEN PARK -- Cliff Avril is proving that his timing is impeccable.
With nine seconds remaining in the game, down by six points, the Detroit Lions defense lined up to defend one-yard of turf as the Minnesota Vikings threatened to score a game-winning touchdown, representing seven points that would have been devastating to the Lions playoff chances.
The defense forced a fumble and as the ball bounced down the field, Avril fell on top of it, securing the Lions victory and allowing them to maintain an inside track in the playoff homestretch.
Although one play is hardly a large enough sample to analyze a player, Avril’s 2011 performance shares the same timeliness.
Avril is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season and the former third-round draft pick (No. 92 overall) is setting himself up for a big pay day.
Avril hasn’t been a well-known commodity around the league prior to this season but once the film goes out, everyone takes notice.
“I think he is one of the best pass rushers in football,” said Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson. “I have great respect for (Kyle) Vanden Bosch and what he does and the way he plays. I have competed against him before in Tennessee and he is one of the best at what he does, but this other guy (Avril), man does he bring it. He is a good football player for (their) football team.”
Avril was a restricted free agent heading into this season and the Lions tendered him a first-round offer sheet, which he did not sign until the beginning of August. Signing earlier would have been of no consequence, due to the NFL lockout over the summer, but it is no secret that Avril wished to sign a long term contract.
Instead, Avril has worked hard and continued to develop into one of the defense’s most productive players while playing on a one-year, $2.6 million deal.
Avril has already registered a career-high nine sacks, while forcing a league-leading six fumbles, yet his full contributions cannot be measured in conventional statistics.
“Cliff’s been very good—two sacks in this game (against the Vikings),” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “(He) probably goes unnoticed in his stat line as (some of the) tackles he made (were) down the field in the passing game, and I think those were every bit as important as the other plays that he made.”
The Lions employ a point system for their defensive players that measures performance based on many difference attributes. From a defensive line perspective, the major categories come into play (sacks, forced turnovers, etc…) but other, less mentioned items, are also considered – for example, tackles down field.
Normally, a defensive lineman scores in the range of 10 to 25 points. Avril registered a score greater than 40 against the Vikings.
“Cliff’s performance was outstanding,” said Ndamukong Suh. “Obviously he got player of the game. For him to have – on our points chart – to have 40 plus points is quite a job. I’m definitely happy for him and the way his season is going.”
Defensive ends were the league’s second highest paid position in 2010, shouldn’t have changed in 2011 and doesn’t figure to change going forward. Pass rushers are highly valued across the NFL. As the league continues to transition to more of a “passing league” their value will only increase.
Also, when you consider that the Carolina Panthers signed defensive end Charles Johnson to a six-year $76 million contract prior to the 2011 season and that Johnson is having a similar season statically to Avril, there is no doubt Avril – who is the same age as Johnson - can command a contract with a yearly salary between $8-10 million on the open market.
The question is, will Avril test the open market or will he and the Lions strike a deal before his contract expires?
Avril isn’t discussing his contract situation, opting to focus on football, and the Lions won’t discuss future and potential contract talks with the media.
Dollar signs aside, Avril would like to remain with the team that drafted him.
“Yeah it’d be great (to spend his career in Detroit),” said Avril. “I was on that 0 and 16 team, that’s how I started my career as a professional athlete and as a professional football player. I’d definitely like to be here as the team grows and gets better and be a part of that.”
As the Lions push for the playoffs, there is no doubt Avril has been a key player in the team’s turnaround but will he be a future cog in their continued ascension of the NFL ranks?
Are the Lions destined for the playoffs?
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