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Is Cliff Avril Being Greedy or Is He Worth it?

May 29, 2012

Football

Cliff getting live. /Copyright Fox Sports Detroit.

With the recent article surfacing by Albert Breer of NFL.com reporting that Cliff Avril, the young and promising defensive end of the Detroit Lions, is requesting more than the $10.605 million guaranteed by the Franchise tag a year in a four year contract, one has to question if Avril could possibly be worth approximately 1/12 of the whole salary cap allocated to the 53 man squad.

A quick answer based on nothing more than simple arithmetic would suggest a resounding “No,” but in an NFL that becomes everyday more of a passing game, the principle pass rushers for 4-3 defenses continue to “earn” lucrative contracts for their efforts. Are these players worth the contracts they are being given? Or is this position being overvalued as the NFL continues to morph and change?

While good statistical evidence is not readily available for a proper study on the effect of the defensive end, at least for this article, I will attempt to dissect the perceived worth of the defensive end, based on their principal money earning stat: sacks and their cap hit salary. The use of the cap hit salary is important as much of the money earned in the NFL is also in bonuses instead of base salaries. To steer the arguments away from nitpicky details and to help keep the rudimentary study EVEN more simple, I will be only including players listed as “DE” by NFL.com. There are simply too many different defensive line schemes and not one team shows their base defense on every down. It would be incredibly exhausting to attempt to base the definition off a certain percentage of time a player is on the field with “one hand in the dirt.” (Though I am sure Pro Football Focus has that stat on hand in their more privileged pay section.)

Nonetheless, here we go:

Top 15 Paid Defensive Ends 2011 Cap Hit Salary 2011 Sacks 2011 % Salary of Team (out of 1.000)
Dwight Freeney

16420000

8.5

0.137

Elvis Dumervil

14500000

9.5

0.121

Julius Peppers

13833333

11

0.115

Jared Allen

11562771

22

0.096

Charles Johnson

9000000

9

0.075

Will Smith

8400000

6.5

0.070

Chris Long

8245000

13

0.069

Kyle Vanden Bosch

8190000

8

0.068

Justin Smith

7333333

7.5

0.061

Antonio Smith

7100000

6.5

0.059

Justin Tuck

6250000

5

0.052

Jason Babin

5300000

18

0.044

Randy Starks

4775000

4.5

0.040

Stephen Bowen

4500000

6

0.038

John Abraham

4500000

9.5

0.038

Here are the highest paid 15 defensive ends in 2011. There should be some very reputable names on this last, obviously, as well as some that are less known to the average fan (Randy Starks, Stephen Bowen). Overall, it’s a list full of talent and for the most part production as well. Randy Starks isn’t asked to pass rush as much as some on the list and Justin Tuck was limited by some injuries and only played in 12 games, yet who knows how many were at 100%. The point here is that this table should allow you to see how much each end is making and get a feel for what kind of cash comparatively Cliff Avril is asking for and what the Lions could be willing to pay. While talent can equal cash at many times, how about production and where do the highest paid ends come at when we look at table broken down by the top 15 sack leaders of the DE position?

Top 15 Productive Ends 2011 Cap Hit Salary 2011 Sacks 2011 % Salary of Team (out of 1.000)
Jared Allen

11562771

22

0.096

Jason Babin

5300000

18

0.044

Jason Pierre-Paul

2900961

16.5

0.024

Chris Long

8245000

13

0.069

Cliff Avril

2610000

11

0.022

Chris Clemons

3100000

11

0.026

Trent Cole

2900000

11

0.024

Julius Peppers

13833333

11

0.115

Mark Anderson

1375000

10

0.011

Andre Carter

2250000

10

0.019

John Abraham

4500000

9.5

0.038

Elvis Dumervil

14500000

9.5

0.121

Robert Mathis

2410000

9.5

0.020

Charles Johnson

9000000

9

0.075

Osi Umenyiora

3787657

9

0.032

A quick look at the names on the list should again reveal some familiarity. From the top 15 most highly paid table above, we have 7 defensive ends that make the list of the top 15 most productive ends of the 2011 season. This list also helps show just how dominating Jared Allen was last season and brings on a couple more NYG defensive ends highlighting how loaded their line really was last year.

For our purposes, however, in answering the questions of how much the Lions should pay Avril and what he could be worth, I’ll do some number crunching and reveal the results:

In 2011, teams spent $899,027.25 a sack on the highest paid players, while a sack cost $490,415.12 to the list with what we could call eight over-achievers on it.

If Avril was to be among the highest 15 cap hit salaries in the game, which he will undoubtedly be, if not in the top five, he should have been paid $9,889,299.70 last season for his efforts (11 sacks). The production list shows an amount of $5,394,566.34.

If Avril can be expected to reach 15 sacks this year, something not too far from what he achieved this year, (with arguably a down year from the interior of the Lions’ defensive line) he should be a cap hit anywhere from $7,356,226.83 to $13,485,408.69.

Averages on the percentage of salary cap these players took up fall between 4.9% and 7.2%.

Based on these results, Avril was a STEAL last year at $2.61 million, or only $237,272.73 a sack…this goes without mentioning his league second-best (1st amongst defensive ends) six forced fumbles.

—So what does this all mean? What should Avril be getting paid? Is he being greedy or are the Lions being cheap?

I can only assume most won’t like this answer, but, the quick stats show that if Cliff Avril is asking for money at or exceeding the current franchise tag price of $10.6 million/year, he is not asking for anything outrageous when compared to his counterparts at the position across the league and what they have been making to this point. Undoubtedly we might actually be seeing these numbers go up after this year’s extensions of some of the most productive defensive ends of last season.

Paying for production, an idea that seems fair to both the player and the team, however, is not a way that NFL franchises can possibly run their organizations. With a hard salary cap of $120.6 million this year, teams must find a diamond in the rough or get production from players that are not paid what their production deems fit. This is why I included the data on the percentage of the salary cap these players took up last year. If Avril was paid at the franchise tag money over four years, roughly what is mumbled about he is asking for, he would be taking up 8.8% of the current salary cap. Murmurs of the new television deals in the future have the salary cap expanding, but not enough to make an instantaneous impact on these numbers of great value. Reportedly, the Lions are offering a sum $2 million less a year, or a more reasonable 7.16% of their salary cap…very close to Charles Johnson money and what would make Cliff one of the most highly paid defensive ends in the game still.

To sum it all up: By the numbers, Cliff Avril is asking for a fair amount based on his production and the potential he has for more at his young age. The Lions are countering with a reasonable offer that would leave them more wiggle room. The issue just lies with whether or not Cliff is really worth the money or his production could be mimicked by others because of the strength of the rest of the line. That is something that none of us know the answer to and we’ll all just have to wait to find out.

Hope to an end of this fiasco by July 16th!

Cheers.

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About Mike Gazdik

Born in Detroit, raised in Warren, MI and now located in Grand Rapids, Mike has lived in Michigan his whole life: totaling 22 years. He currently is Vice-President of The Farm Club, a blog that is growing daily with new writers and readers. He enjoys offering research driven articles on many different subjects, but mostly American football. The goal of The Farm Club is to give aspiring college writers the ability to write on what topics really get them ticking, while sharing their insight and feelings with a large reader base. www.thefarmclub.net If you think you'd like to contribute to The Farm Club, contact the blog on Twitter, Facebook or through email. Information is listed on the blog's webpage.

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3 Comments on “Is Cliff Avril Being Greedy or Is He Worth it?”

  1. DezzNuta Says:

    The problem is most of these guys on this list have been doing it for much longer, so we know its their actual talent and nor the system, or in thsi case, Cliff is surounded on the Line by the likes of Suh and KVB.

    Soem of those guys like Starks, A.Smith and Bowen were simply overpaid

    Reply

  2. Sean Breslin Says:

    This was a great read. I wonder if his value will go up thanks to Nick Fairley’s off-the-field issues. They might need Avril even more now.

    Reply

    • Michael Gazdik Says:

      Thanks for the kind comment. This is my first contribution of any sort to a blog.

      As for your thought, my initial feeling is that the offseason issues with Fairley won’t really make an impact on the Avril negotiations. Too many long term results/consequences and money involved in the contract to be effected by a possible suspension of any of a player who wasn’t around for most of last year anyway.. in my opinion.

      Luckily, all accounts of Avril are that he is a good dude who lives a quiet life with a new born son. (I guess that’s what keeps him from driving drunk or ridiculously fast)

      Reply

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