NFL 2012: Will Lions, Avril Reach Long-Term Deal before Deadline Passes?

Brandon Burnett@B_Burnett49Contributor IIIJuly 15, 2012

Avril emerged as an elite pass-rusher in 2011.
Avril emerged as an elite pass-rusher in 2011.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Predicting whether or not the Detroit Lions will sign star Cliff Avril to a long-term deal before the July 16th deadline could be as much of a shot in the dark as any.

Earlier this week, the franchise-tagged defensive end remained "very optimistic" the two sides would be able to hammer out a contract agreement before Avril would be forced to play under the one-year $10.6 million terms of the tag, or hold out.

By Friday, however, the 26-year-old didn't seem so confident.

“I’m hopeful, but I don’t know,” Avril told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m not getting a good vibe, let’s put it that way. But I’m hopeful.”

So, what's to make of this crucial moment in the Lions' not-so-pleasant offseason?

Squeezing out a respectable deal that suits both parties would help keep another promising young star in the Motor City and give fans a positive vibe heading into training camp.

Avril played under a one-year, $2.6 million deal in 2011 and came through with his finest NFL season to date. The former Purdue Boilermaker tallied a career-high 11 sacks to go with six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (also career highs). 

The fifth-year pro made several flashy plays throughout Detroit's 10-6 season, including an acrobatic, one-handed interception off of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers that I'll never forget. If you don't remember the play, you can view it here.

The Lions' front office has eked out long-term deals before. Cory Redding (2007) and Jeff Backus (2006) both signed deadline-beating contracts as time was running out.

There is pressure, of course, on Martin Mayhew and Co. to get Avril locked up. The youngster is a crucial piece of the Lions' growing defensive unit, and they don't want this issue to extend into 2013.

Avril said he prefers not to play under the franchise tag, but it's hard to imagine him turning down playing for $10.6 million next year. If it does come down to playing for the one-year deal in 2012, the Lions could then tag him again in 2013.

But that's a road no one wants to travel down. 

My guess, is that a contract will be finalized sometime tomorrow and Avril will become one of the higher-paid defensive ends in the NFL.

With Avril, fellow DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Ndamukong Suh and others, the Lions have one of the most feared D-lines the NFL can offer.

It will come at a price, but it's in Detroit's best interest to keep all of the pieces intact. The future of this defense would suffer a serious blow if the production of the 33-year-old Vanden Bosch dropped off and Avril ended up playing somewhere else.

But, if the Lions' offseason goes as planned for once, that won't be happening.