Cliff Avril is holding out. According to an NFL.com 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:
|Mario Williams ('10)||18.3||18.5||0||0.5||-0.7||10.8||29.8||1.13||$16.7||$19.0||$1.54|
The chart above is the usual set of Old Mother Hubbard data, with a few new additions:
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.