Cliff Avril takes business approach in contract talks with Lions

Cliff Avril has his reservations about where his contract talks stand with the Detroit Lions at the moment. If he didn't, he'd be signed by now.

That doesn't make him different than a lot of other guys. What does is how level-headed he's been about the whole thing, as a 26-year-old trying to make the financial splash most football players covet in their second contract.

"I'm fortunate enough to play football for a living, first off," Avril said over the phone this week, having just finished a personal workout as his teammates started OTAs nearby in suburban Detroit. "I'm thankful for that. But I know it's a business. I knew that from Day 1. I have to do what's right for my family. I'm a businessman. I can't be mad. If they lowball you, you can't be mad, because you ask yourself, if you were them, what would you do initially? So I'm not mad. It's not personal. I just want to be here long term."

Here's where things stand ...

A record 21 players were franchised in March. Avril is one of eight who remain unsigned and away from their respective clubs. The one-year, fully-guaranteed $10.605 million tender accorded to tagged defensive ends remains on the table, and Avril's hope is he won't ever sign it.

That, in fact, goes without saying. The idea for almost every player in Avril's situation is to get extended long term. The seven others in the same boat: New Orleans QB Drew Brees, Chicago RB Matt Forte, Baltimore RB Ray Rice, Kansas City WR Dwayne Bowe, San Francisco S Dashon Goldson, Denver K Matt Prater and Jacksonville K Josh Scobee. Brees has been public with his frustration of late, and Forte hasn't been shy about expressing his displeasure, either. Rice's situation isn't quite as contentious, but he and the Ravens have struggled to find common ground.

The Lions and Avril's people aren't near reaching a deal, either. In fact, the sides are separated by around $2 million per year on Avril's worth, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The player's side is looking for something with a yearly average exceeding the $10.605 million attached to the tender, over four years, which would top $42 million, with more than half of it guaranteed. The Lions have made several offers. But nothing's close.

Meanwhile, Detroit just broke the bank to keep Calvin Johnson, will eventually have to do the same for Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, and has safety Louis Delmas and defensive tackle Corey Williams going into contract years, as well. So the deal won't exactly be done in a vacuum.

Panic time? Not for Avril.

Though he knew he'd be staying away, rather than working out near his offseason home in Jacksonville, Avril chose to pull up stakes and head to Wixom, Mich., about a half hour away from the team's Allen Park facility, to prepare as the Lions convened for the start of their offseason program in April. There, he's lifting and conditioning with the trainer, Jim Kielbaso, who worked with him and a number of other Lions during last year's lockout.

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"I'm mostly here because of the training I can get -- I trained with Jim last year, and I liked him, so it was better to come back here," Avril said. "But I also wanted to be hanging out with the guys on the team. It's better to be near them."

He talks weekly with Kyle Vanden Bosch and a number of other teammates, including 2008 draft classmate Gosder Cherilus, so he has an idea of what's happening at the facility. And yes, it is frustrating. But Avril's approach is steady on this one.

"I definitely want to be with my teammates," he continued. "This is the time of year when you build camaraderie on the team, on the defensive line. But it's also part of the business. This part of the game sucks. But don't mistake this -- I'm preparing myself for when I do return. I'm working hard, conditioning and lifting every day. The one thing I won't allow myself to do is return out of shape. I wanna be ready to go when the time comes."

The work Kielbaso has put Avril through has, in some ways, mirrored what he'd be doing in the offseason program. Early on, it was a lot of running and strength training. Now, there's more football-specific work -- "D-end specific things, just getting my body used to coming out of a stance," as he puts it.

The next step is hard to chart. There really is only one deadline left for Avril and the other 16 tagged players who haven't yet struck long-term deals. And that comes on July 16, after which those players' clubs can no longer negotiate multi-year contracts with them.

Between now and then, each team will have a mandatory minicamp, and Avril says, "It's definitely a possibility that I might not show up. Hopefully, we figure something out by then, I definitely want to be there, but they gotta make something happen first."

Maybe at some point, things get nastier. It's just interesting that, to this point, they haven't. The two sides don't see eye-to-eye, at least not yet, on Avril's worth. And that reality hasn't led to a whole lot of vitriol.

After all, Avril is one of just 10 players left from the 0-16 season of 2008. He's seen the resurgence to this point. It's understandable that he wants to see it the rest of the way through, particularly given the Lions' immense potential going forward.

"I've definitely been a part of the worst of it," Avril said with a knowing laugh. "I went through the coaching change, I've been here through a lot. It's been a rough ride, but we're on the up-and-up. You see the team improving, and I'm improving with the team. This is the team that drafted me -- I want to stay here. But I also understand that it's a business."

And in both his demeanor and actions, Avril has very clearly treated it as such.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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