Lewand: Tough roster decisions lie ahead; suspensions likely for Fairley and Leshoure

Posted by ttwentyman on June 12, 2012 – 5:05 pm

Lions defensive end Cliff Avril isn’t expected to participate in minicamp this week as both he and the team continue to negotiate a long-term deal. Lions president Tom Lewand told 97.1 The Ticket in an interview Tuesday that he spoke to Avril’s representatives on Tuesday and those talks are ongoing.

If the two sides don’t come to an agreement on a long-term deal before July 16, Avril will have to play the 2012 season under the one-year franchise tag worth $10.6 million that the team designated him back in March.

Lewand was later asked if the Lions could afford to sign Avril to a lucrative long-term deal, consistent with some of the other deals top pass rushers in the NFL have been signing in recent years, with the current salary structure of the team and big money already being paid out to players like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh.

“At some point in time that becomes a good problem to have,” Lewand answered. “Not that you ever want to lose good players, you don’t, but our system is such that if you look at the good teams throughout the NFL, the ones that have been consistent contenders on a year-in and year-out basis: Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis during the Peyton Manning days, Green Bay … they lose good players.

“They have to make tough decisions about whether to re-sign a guy, whether to trade somebody. Those are problems that we hope to have because you got an abundance of good players that you can’t afford to keep under the salary cap system. At some point in time, we’re going to be facing some of those tough decisions.”

The Lions would ideally like to sign Avril to a long-term deal at a cap-friendly $8 or $8.5 million per season. The problem is the going rate on top-tier pass rushers in the league right now is $10 to $12 million per season and up.

“The first contract we did in the 2012 offseason was for Calvin Johnson and I think that sent a message loud and clear to our locker room, and hopefully to this community and to our fans, that we are committed to keeping the nucleus of our team together for a long period of time and hopefully Cliff is a part of that,” Lewand said. “Hopefully we can work something out, but there will be tough decisions coming down the road. It’s not something anyone wants to have, but when it comes to picking problems that’s one of the best ones.”

It’s possible some of those “tough decisions” are part of the reason Avril isn’t signed past 2012?

Lewand also addressed the topic of possible suspensions for defensive tackle Nick Fairley and running back Mikel Leshoure for their offseason run-ins with law enforcement:

“We can’t suspend them, that’s part of the CBA, that’s part of the restrictions that we operate under,” Lewand said. “Obviously that discipline falls under the commissioner’s purview. And suspensions are certainly something that could be a possibility and I would say are likely if you look at similar types of incidences on other teams.

“But typically what the commissioner likes to do is see it play out in the legal process, see the matter is adjudicated because we can’t lose sight of the fact, and I’m not making excuses for anybody, trust me, but the reason the commissioner lets the legal process play out is because of the time-honored tradition of innocent until proven guilty.”

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