When Cliff Avril left the Detroit Lions last spring, there was a feeling of disappointment for all parties involved. Avril clearly wasn't in a rush to leave town, and Lions' fans wanted him to stay just as much. Financially, however, keeping the star defensive end would be next to impossible with plenty of contractual realities abound on the roster.
Avril eventually departed, signing a deal with the Seattle Seahawks and for both him and the Lions, the defensive beat went on. As Avril tries to achieve his ultimate sports dream, it's worth remembering, the defensive end honed his craft in Detroit, and is as big a reason the Lions' defensive line has a feared identity to this day as either Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley.
Drafted in the third round from Purdue in 2008, Avril quickly became one of Matt Millen's better decisions as general manager of the Lions. He developed into a major threat off the edge, collecting 39.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in his five year career in the Motor City. More than that, Avril became the kind of soft-spoken leader the team could depend on.
Prior to his arrival, Detroit's defensive line was a certified mess. They hadn't had an end capable of rushing the passer since Robert Porcher retired, and the line was prone to breakdowns, allowing quarterbacks time in the pocket. With terrifying swim moves off the edge, the free lunch was over. Avril helped opposing teams take notice of the Lions. Aggressive defense became fun again.
After Suh and Fairley came into the fold occupying more attention and double teams, Avril's career soared. Without Avril's development, though, the Lions may not have been in a position to draft either defensive tackle. Knowing they had an aggressive end who could wreak havoc, the Lions turned their attention to the middle of the line and formed a tough trio.
"I appreciate my opportunity in Detroit," Avril said. "We had a blast. Obviously, we didn't win much but that one season, but I had a blast there. I have nothing but good memories of Detroit, honestly. Just unfortunate things didn't work out. I mean, fortunately for me it's working out right now, but it's unfortunate it didn't work out back then."
As it relates to consistent winning, Avril's right. His time in Detroit wasn't a complete failure, however, because he turned himself into a household name while quietly leading a turnaround, shaping what was once a major team weakness into a strength. For that, he deserves credit and respect.
The term "Made in Detroit" has been used as a marketing gimmick for years, getting printed on t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs and bumper stickers. Avril doesn't have to collect those items, because personally, he already embodies that spirit.
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