Lions place franchise tag on Avril

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Lions made what general manager Martin Mayhew called the second-worst option available in contract talks with defensive end Cliff Avril by putting the franchise tag on him Monday morning.

The move was made official on the Lions’ website.

Before applying the tag, the Lions had tried to negotiate a long-term contract with Avril, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.

The franchise tag gives Avril a one-year contract with a salary of $10.6 million for 2012. Avril made $2.61 million in 2011.

When negotiations failed to produce a deal, the Lions put the tag on Avril before Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

Avril was given a nonexclusive rights designation with the tag, which allows him to get offers from other teams as an unrestricted free agent. However, the Lions have the right to match any offer or take compensation in the form of two first-round draft picks.

The draft-pick compensation makes it unlikely that any team will sign Avril. However, there have been instances in which deals have been worked out between two teams for lesser compensation.

Avril has risen steadily in stature with the Lions since being drafted in the third round out of Purdue in 2008. His playing time, durability and productivity have increased yearly.

Avril had his best season in 2011. He led the team with 11 sacks, a career high, and had six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one interception.

Mayhew said at the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that using the franchise tag would be a last resort.

“Franchising him is not a good option for us,” Mayhew said. “The only worse option is playing without him. We don’t want to play without him.”

At an appearance in Metro Detroit last month, Avril said he would consider holding out if the franchise tag is applied. Avril also has said he does not want to leave Detroit.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, once the franchise tag is applied, a player has until July 15 to sign a long-term contract with the team. If a contract is not negotiated before July 15, the player must play the season on the one-year, $10.6 million salary.

The franchise tag has negative implications for Avril and the Lions.

Playing on a one-year contract exposes a player to the risk of injury, which would diminish his value on the free-agent market in 2013.

On the Lions’ side, the $10.6 million salary would put a strain on their salary cap. A long-term deal would reduce the impact this year, based on the proration of a signing bonus and base salaries spread over several seasons.

The Lions have key players who are eligible to become free agents on March 13. The Lions want to re-sign middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Eric Wright, offensive tackle Jeff Backus and backup quarterback Shaun Hill.

They also have been negotiating a long-term extension for wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who will be on the last year of his contract in 2012.