Cliff Avril’s Contract Demands: is His Production Worth the Money?

>> 5.25.2012

Cliff Avril is holding out. According to an report, Avril is seeking about $42 million dollars over four years, with about half of that guaranteed. Per that same report, the Lions are looking to pay him closer to $8M per year, and there the two sides sit.

Is Avril worth that kind of money?

Allow me to quote the defensive end Old Mother Hubbard:

Bottom Line: Cliff Avril, in this system, plays like a top ten defensive end. If he is not re-signed, his production and playmaking ability will not be easily replaced—and his production and playmaking ability is essential to the success of the defense. His re-signing must be the Lions’ top priority.

The answer, for the Lions, is “yes.” Avril is (at this point in the offseason) irreplaceable, and they would need to replace him with a top-flight pass rusher in the 2013 offseason. But is he producing like the kind of ends already making that kind of cash? Let's look at some analytics:

  Overall Rush Cov. Run Pen. PRP +EPA +WPA SpY SB $M/PRP
Calais Campbell 34.1 23.5 7 1 2.6 6.6 54.4 2.17 $11.0 $15.0 $1.67
Jared Allen 35 18.9 3.5 12.6 0 9.8 80.5 2.06 $12.2 $15.5 $1.25
Cliff Avril 6.6 11 5.5 -2.5 -7.4 9.6 45.10 1.45 $10.0 - $1.04
Julius Peppers 28.3 19.5 2 6.3 0.5 10.3 52.1 1.35 $14.0 $6.5 $1.36
Mario Williams ('10) 18.3 18.5 0 0.5 -0.7 10.8 29.8 1.13 $16.7 $19.0 $1.54
Trent Cole 40.4 35.2 0.5 10.3 -5.6 14.9 32.30 1.00 $9.9 $8.0 $0.66
Dwight Freeney 5.8 15.5 0 -7.5 -2.2 9.4 27.5 0.85 $12.0 $15.0 $1.28

The chart above is the usual set of Old Mother Hubbard data, with a few new additions:

  • Pro Football Focus Overall: The player’s overall grade, as measured by PFF.
  • Pro Football Focus Rush: The player’s PFF pass-rush grade.
  • Pro Football Focus Coverage: The player’s PFF coverage grade.
  • Pro Football Focus Run: The player’s PFF run-stopping grade.
  • Pro Football Focus Penalty: The player’s PFF grade for incurring penalties (snap count is accounted for).
  • Pro Football Focus PRP: PFF's pass-rush rate stat. Weighted amount of sacks, QB hits, and QB pressures divided by charted pass rush attempts.
  • Advanced NFL Stats +EPA: The amount of positive-impact production the player had, as measured by Advanced NFL Stats.
  • Advanced NFL Stats +WPA: The impact the player had on his team’s chances to win games. The table and chart are sorted by this stat.
  • SpY: Salary per Year. The player’s total contract value, divided by contract length. Data from
  • SB: The player’s signing bonus.
  • $M/PRP: The number of salary millions paid per year, per point of PRP.

    First, a reminder: this is a selection of the highest-paid and most-productive defensive ends in football. The idea is to see if Avril’s production is in their elite company, not to see if he’s good or not—we know he’s very good.

    Second, caveats: Calais Campbell is a 3-4 DE, so he gets a lot more tackles than a typical 4-3 pass rusher. This explains his lackluster PRP, but outstanding PFF grades and solid +EPA. Mario Williams’ data is from 2010, the last year he played as a 4-3 rush end.

    The chart is a little helter-skelter but you should be able to see Cliff’s line quite clearly. As before, his PFF Overall grade is very low relative to the other DEs. He’s right at about the NFL average. This is mostly due to his 11 assessed penalties; Avril’s play is quite good but he was flagged constantly.

    Avril’s pass rush grades were better, above average, but still well below NFL leader Trent Cole, and DEs like Jared Allen and Mario Williams. Remember, this PFF pass grade is an accumulated, normalized measure of “how good” every down’s performance was.

    Avril led the 4-3 DEs in PFF Coverage grades, trailing only Calais Campbell (which, again, “good coverage” from a 3-4 DE is a different standard than “good coverage” from a 4-3 DE). Against the run, Avril was comparable to Williams and Campbell, but well behind Allen and Cole, both of whom were in the top ten run-stoppers.

    Avril had the second-worst penalty grade of any 4-3 DE last year.

    Here's where it gets interesting. Pass Rush Productivity is a much more refined version of what I've been doing, dividing snap counts by sacks-plus-hits-plus-pressures. PFF is putting together a weighted total of sacks, hits and pressure then dividing pass rush attempts by that figure. This gives a true picture of how often these pass rushers are getting to the quarterback.

    Avril’s is a very respectable 9.6. That’s tied for 10th-best in the NFL with Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and New England’s Andre Carter. In fact, it’s just behind Allen’s 9.8. Trent Cole led the NFL with a ridiculous 14.9. For the record, Kyle Vanden Bosch registered a 27th-best 7.3 . . . as I hinted before, that’s half as effective per-snap as Cole.

    Ready to have your mind blown? When I drop the qualifying snap percentage from its default 50% to 25%, The Great Willie Young is 3rd in the NFL with 13.7. Lawrence Jackson comes in 26th with 8.8.

    When it comes to +EPA, Jared Allen laps the field. His positive production was 2nd in the NFL with 80.5. Campbell and Julius Peppers nearly tie for second in this group, and Avril’s right behind them with 45.1. Cole, who’s been blowing all these metrics away so far, has only 32.3 +EPA.

    In terms of +WPA, Avril’s 1.45 was 7th-best in the NFL. Campbell’s 2.17 was 2nd-best, and Allen’s 2.06 was 3rd-best. Again, Cole’s monster productivity only netted him 1.00 +WPA; either his massive pressure didn’t come when the Eagles needed it, or the Eagles were going to lose whether he got there or not. Maybe a little of both? Either way, Avril’s solidly above-average production clearly made a big difference in the Lions’ bottom line.

    So we know Avril’s a very good defensive end, arguably one of the ten best 4-3 DEs in the NFL. We also know he’s worth more to the Lions specifically, right now, than he is in a “relative to the rest of the league” way. But look at those salary figures.

    If the Lions gave Avril the $10M/year he’s asking for, they’d be paying less relative to his pass rush production than any of the measured DEs, save Trent Cole—who had the most productive year of anyone in the NFL while playing on a rookie contract.

    To justify this money, Avril must cut down on the penalties without cutting down on his production. But unlike Corey Williams, whose production was partly due to snap timing, Avril's penalties are often post-play; the kind of thing he should be able to eliminate by keeping his head.

    But outside of that, given his knowledge of the system, his production within the system, and that production’s importance to the system, Avril’s clearly worth $10 milion a year to the Lions.


    Ronald Van Roekel,  May 31, 2012 at 7:29 PM  

    I have to disagree on this one. Why is Avril worth 10M more than Lawrence Jackson or Willie Young? His overal production was average with the penalties. As you mentioned, when Williams cut down his penalties his production went down. Overal Williams helped the team by doing so. We now have Lewis taking the spot of Young in getting his body better prepared for the NFL.

    The Wide-9 defense is like a hybrid of the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. He lines up like a 3-4 OLB, but w/o the third interior lineman. He has less responsibilty and versatility than a 3-4 OLB. So yes his pass numbers should be better than most, and his run defense worse.

    A typical rush DE plays over the best player which is the left tackle, and that is not his position due to Schwartz swapping things. So we can not compare him to some of the elites with him lining up so wide and against the right tackle.

    Next year we will have a huge problem again with the salary cap if we sign him long term. I would rather build for the future than over pay for one guy.

    From the outside, it looks like we are trying to avoid the same mistake in what the Tigers did with Polonco when he became a free agent. We need to bite the bullit and work with the younger guys for 10M less.

    Ronald Van Roekel,  May 31, 2012 at 7:38 PM  

    One more comment. If we swapped Vanden Bosh and Avril, I see Kyle's numbers going up and Cliff's going down. If including leadership with pay, I say Avril should be paid about the same as Kyle which is between 5 and 6m per season.

    Ronald Van Roekel,  May 31, 2012 at 7:56 PM  

    The Red Wings may have went with the phylosophy that most of the highest paid players on the team where thier captains. I do not know if the the Lions ever thought of that phylosophy. Curious on how the other top NFL teams approach that.

    Imperical Evidence,  June 7, 2012 at 11:54 PM  

    The thing about KVB and Avril - the age. I think the Lions are banking on Avril getting better, and KVB isn't going to stay in his prime forever.

    nothing,  June 8, 2012 at 7:24 AM  

    I'm inclined to agree. UFAs next year:

    -And like all of our backups.

    Aaron Berry being an RFA at the end of possibly a breakout season puts the cherry on top. Lions are right to stand pat with their offer and ride out the franchise tag if necessary, they will need every cent of that $2M next year.

    bigwalt2990,  June 10, 2012 at 8:36 AM  

    Willie. Young.

    Tuff Lynx,  June 12, 2012 at 2:22 PM  

    I think there are two factors that work against Avril here. The first is the Lions have several players on the roster that indicate they could step in for Cliff without having much performance drop-off at the position.

    Past performance indicates that Lojack is better against the run and a far better tackler than Cliff, with only a very modest drop on pass rushing skill. Willie Young might be better than Cliff Avril if he could get out of his shadow. KVB had a good season and he was really only a shade below Avril in production at far below $10 million per season. With the additions of Everette Brown and Ronnell Lewis the Lions have enough DEs to absorb the loss of Cliff Avril.

    The second factor is the salary cap. Given the number of players that will be free agents next off-season, we have to look to the future to completely understand the bargaining position of the Lions. It makes no sense to overpay Cliff (based on roster value, not pure performance) if you are going to lose Louis Delmas or Chris Houston in the exchange. Nearly the entire Lions starting defense is up for new contracts after next season. The Lions have to be budget conscious if they are going to keep the majority of those players.

    Unfortunately, the business side of the NFL does not always allow the team to be as fair to players as they would like. Cliff might have to settle for less to stay with the Lions. He has indicated he will not do that with his "No such thing as a hometown discount." statement. We need to face the facts that Cliff Avril may simply be expendable.

    Bigwalt2990,  June 13, 2012 at 8:43 PM  

    Stats are from last year. This is this year. Go into the locker room and tell Lojack , Willie Young, and Everette Brown that Avril is irreplaceable. Those guys are hungry to step up and show the world what they can do. They know the talent that's on this defense, they want to start. And they CAN start.

    Angus Osborne,  June 15, 2012 at 6:53 PM  

    Hey Ty, did you see NFL's going to give the public access to Coaches Tape online? Excited a bit?

    Shealey12000,  June 20, 2012 at 1:02 AM  

    Come on, post some new stuff. You're doing great otherwise, keep it up.

    Anonymous,  June 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM  

    Post more stuff! You do a great job and it's almost been a month now since your last entry

    Denham,  July 18, 2012 at 11:27 PM  

    Sorry to bring this back up but with the deadline passing I was wondering what you see happening Ty. Cliff looks to be wanting some money but we have a big class of FA's next year. Staff needs to get paid too. I wouldnt say Cliff is replaceable but I think Will Young can do some damage if Avril does get paid elsewhere.

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