8 Teams Who Should Be Throwing Money at Cliff Avril
The NFL offseason is already off and running. Teams have been cutting players in order to get under the 2013 cap and preparing for the annual feeding frenzy that is free agency in the National Football League.
One of the biggest targets at the defensive end position this offseason could be Cliff Avril of the Detroit Lions, who told Pro Football Talk that it was "50/50" that he will be back with the Lions this year according to Chris McCosky of The Detroit News.
Franchise tagging Avril for a second consecutive season would be prohibitively expensive for the Lions, who are hurting for cap space.
So, unless the team can free up some wiggle room, Avril will hit the open market after racking up 30 sacks over the past three years.
Here are eight teams that could be waiting to pounce if he does.
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In a perfect world, the Detroit Lions wouldn't even be in this position, as the team certainly isn't looking forward to the possibility of watching their best pass-rusher walk out the door.
However, defensive ends that can get to the passer with regularity carry a premium in the NFL, especially those that are only 26 years old.
The Lions have also already released veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, and if Avril walks, the Lions will be looking at major changes on the defensive front next year.
Even in a relatively "down" year, Avril tallied 9.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in 2012, and while the Lions will surely make some effort to keep him around, it's going to take some serious cap wizardry to produce the $9-plus million annually that Avril will command on the open market.
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The Seattle Seahawks had a very good season in 2012, advancing to the postseason.
Heading into 2013, however, the defensive front has become an area of need for the team.
2012 sack leader Chris Clemons tore his ACL in the playoffs, leaving his availability for the early part of 2013 very much in doubt.
Bruce Irvin showed flashes as a rookie but remains largely untested, and while the Seahawks don't have a ton of cap space, they could probably swing a deal for Avril if they believe he's the one big piece that could put them over the top.
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The Atlanta Falcons came within one game of the Super Bowl a season ago, but it wasn't because of a formidable pass rush.
It was in spite of lacking one.
Only four teams in the NFL recorded fewer sacks in 2012 than the Falcons, and 34-year-old John Abraham had 10 of those.
It would likely mean severing ties with Abraham, and the Falcons aren't overflowing with cap space, but Avril would be at the very least a lateral move that would also help the team get younger.
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The Miami Dolphins made some strides in 2012 under first-year coach Joe Philbin and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but there's still work to be done and holes to be filled.
That work is made all the harder by the large number of players the Dolphins have hitting free agency this season, including tackle Jake Long and running back Reggie Bush.
However, the upside of having a lot of free agents is that it generally means you also have quite a bit of cap space.
Miami has that cap space. Having that much money tied up in Avril's new deal and fellow end Cameron Wake would be a bold move, but it's also one that could pay big dividends.
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To find out all you need to know about the Jacksonville Jaguars pass rush in 2012, here's a handy little stat.
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans had more sacks last year by himself than the Jacksonville Jaguars did as a team.
The Jaguars have plenty of cap space thanks to the new salary cap rules that allow teams to "carry over" space from last year, and Avril would be a great fit as the "Leo" pass rusher in new head coach Gus Bradley's 4-3 defense.
It's a signing that makes a lot of sense, but the Jaguars' losing ways might mean having to overpay.
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If the Cincinnati Bengals were to sign Cliff Avril, it would probably be more of an exchange than an addition.
The Bengals have their own free-agent concerns at defensive end. Michael Johnson, who racked up 11.5 sacks in 2012, and who like Avril is 26 and entering his prime, will be an unrestricted free agent this spring.
Cincinnati will probably do everything in their power to jeep Johnson in the fold, including possibly using the franchise tag.
However, if another team were to lure Johnson away, then the Bengals have more than enough cap space to replace him by signing Avril to a big deal of his own.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Like the Cincinnati Bengals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have quite a bit of salary cap space and a free-agent defensive end of their own to worry about.
Defensive end Michael Bennett is coming off a career season with nine sacks a year ago.
However, Bennett is a year older and doesn't have the resume of Johnson or Avril, so he isn't likely to be hit with a franchise tag approaching $10 million or receive a contract as large as Avril and Johnson.
That potentially makes Bennett a very attractive "second-tier" free agent who should have plenty of suitors.
If the Buccaneers lose him, they could look to Avril as a replacement or even an upgrade opposite Da'Quan Bowers, putting Tampa very much in the Cliff Avril sweepstakes.
We'll throw one wild card in here.
The Indianapolis Colts have a significant amount of salary cap space and a need to improve a defense that ranked 23rd in the National Football League in sacks in 2012.
The big sticking point here is that Avril would have to switch to a 3-4 defense, and after watching Dwight Freeney fail miserably in the same switch last year, head coach Chuck Pagano may not be willing to take that risk.
Still, Avril is a much younger player than Freeney who, at 260 pounds, should, in theory, be athletic enough to flip outside.
It may not be the Colts, but some 3-4 team is apt to at least kick the tires where Avril is concerned.