Lions president Tom Lewand said in a local radio interview this week that defensive end Cliff Avril could participate in the team's offseason workout program without signing his franchise tag tender.
"Anybody who is under a tender of any type, whether it's a restricted free agent or franchise tag, can participate," Lewand said on WJR Monday night. "There's a waiver they can sign that we have that protects both the club and the player so they can participate fully in the offseason program while they continue to pursue any rights under the system they have as a tendered player."
The Lions' offseason program began Monday with a week of conditioning. Avril has said he will be in Detroit, but may chose not to participate until he and the team agree on a long-term deal.
"I think we're going to continue to try and get something done hopefully and we'll see how it goes," Avril told the Detroit Free Press. "We'll see. This whole thing, I just know I want to be out there, I want to play ball and we'll see how it goes."
Talks on a long-term deal for Avril have been put on hold while general manager Martin Mayhew concentrates on the draft. Under the terms of the franchise tag, which would pay Avril $10.605 million for this season, he has until July 15 to work out a long-term deal or sign the tender.
Avril has been training steadily for the past two months.
In the same interview, Lewand said the organization would give its three troubled second-year players (Johnny Culbreath, Mikel Leshoure, and Nick Fairley) a second chance and expected them all to participate next week.
Defensive end Cliff Avril has been busy finishing his degree in business marketing at Purdue. He told the Free Press he plans to attend graduation ceremonies next month.
"That's going to be pretty cool," he said. "I've been putting it off for the last couple years and my biggest motivation honestly was (the birth of my son, Xavier, last summer). I can't tell him you got to get your degree, get your education when I went to school for free and didn't get it. So I looked at it like that. He motivated me to get it so I can encourage him to get it when his time comes around."
Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy said he will sign his restricted free-agent tender this weekend and report for workouts on Monday. Levy, who has started 37 of 43 games and recorded 109 tackles last season, was given a second-round tender worth $1.927 million.
Tackle Corey Hilliard and defensive tackle Sammie Hill, the team's other tendered restricted free agents, are expected to also sign. Both were given original round tenders - fourth round for Hill and sixth for Hilliard.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Lions taking Alabama defensive end Courtney Upshaw with the 23rd pick in the draft. Upshaw and Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus are among the defensive ends the Lions have hosted thus far. Why would the Lions take a defensive lineman in the first round for the third straight year?
Starting defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch will be 34 in November. The other starter, Avril, is balking at signing a $10.605 million franchise tag and the sides are reportedly not close to a long-term agreement. Backups Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are playing on the final year of their contracts. And, most significantly, general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have made it abundantly clear that the defense is built around a relentless pass rush and that a powerful and deep defensive line can cover up a lot of holes in the secondary. So if it came down to a choice between the third or fourth cornerback on their board vs. the top pass rusher, expect Mayhew to take the pass rusher.
Among the draft prospects visiting the Lions this week was Arizona receiver David Douglas, who has long wanted to be on the receiving end of some of Matthew Stafford's passes. Douglas was a sophomore at McKinney North High School in Dallas in 2005 when Stafford's Highland Park team routed his team in the playoffs. The memory left a mark.
"I remember him scrambling out to the right and he avoided a sack and pretty much threw it off his back foot to the left corner of the end zone about 55 or 60 yards," Douglas told the Lions' website. "It was the most ridiculous play I've ever seen. He's a stud."
Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin is a popular choice for the Lions among many mock drafters. Pro Football Weekly senior editor Nolan Nawrocki, however, thinks the pick would be a mistake.
"I don't think he has left tackle feet or right tackle power," he said. "I look at him as a fourth-round type project, but he's getting looks in the second round and possibly late in the first. He will be considerably over-drafted."
Nawrocki believes Martin would need at least one "redshirt" year in the NFL and would have to commit to a strength program.
"There is a chance if he was forced into action too soon, a player like Matt Stafford could end up on IR again," he said. "He'd be a risky pick that early."
While Martin may not be the right guy, Nawrocki thinks the Lions do need to draft a left tackle in the upper rounds.
"Jeff Backus has the shortest arms in the NFL and he's starting to show his age," Nawrocki said. "They need to start looking for an improvement (at left tackle) and maybe move Backus inside."