You had to love Cliff Avril's quote about life in the National Football League.
"The business aspect of it blows," he said.
True, perhaps, but there is no other aspect.
Oh, sure, there are practices and games and roars from the crowd. But any pro sport, certainly the NFL's version, is all about the bottom line.
Some rare talents like Drew Brees, who just got a five-year deal from the Saints for a reported $100 million, with $60 million guaranteed, grab the brass ring and ride it into the sunset of retirement.
Others, like Avril, do not. Although your average auto worker probably doesn't sneeze at the Lions' defensive end raking in a guaranteed $10.6 million, at minimum, as the team's designated franchise player for the 2012 season.
To an NFL player, the length of a contract and the average annual compensation said contract provides is secondary to the guaranteed money, because nothing in an NFL pact is guaranteed other than what is negotiated.
Comparing Brees, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and Avril is apples and oranges. Instead, take for example the contract another defensive end, Calais Campbell, just got from the Arizona Cardinals.
He and Avril have similar experience and similar statistics (Avril's are slightly better) and Campbell got $55 million for five years, which compares on average with what Avril will be paid next season. But more than $30 million of Campbell's $55 million is guaranteed. That's the magic number.
Avril was hoping for some magic, but the Lions' final and best offer reportedly was $30 million over three years with $20 million guaranteed. The team's best pass rusher -- 11 sacks and six forced fumbles while starting every game in 2011 -- felt he was worth more.
As an unrestricted free agent, he will instead agree to sign the franchise tender that allows the Lions to lock him in place for one season for the average of the top five salaries at his position or for 120 percent of his previous year's salary, whichever is greater. He probably will get a tender north of $12 million with $10.6 million of it guaranteed.
Avril said he wants to be with the Lions long-term and is disappointed it could not be accomplished. He can't sign any such deal with the team now until after next season. But he said he understands.
If you don't, we'll try to fill in the blanks.
The Lions are pretty good these days and Avril, a bargain third-round pick in 2008 from Purdue University who has done nothing but get better every season, is one of the reasons why.
But before their 2011 playoff march the Lions were really bad for a really long time. And in a perverse sort of way all that badness has caught up with them.
They had high draft picks year in and year out and, lately, the Lions have drafted intelligently and awfully well.
The problem, if that's the right word, is that three first-round draft picks since '07 -- receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- are developing into premier players at their positions, command massive contracts, and collectively represent a huge chunk of the Lions' salary cap.
Getting them cost a lot. Keeping them is an even stiffer proposition. Johnson, the best receiver in the game, period, recently was upgraded to a $132 million deal over eight years.
If Stafford stays healthy and repeats his 2011 numbers this fall he'll be looking to get at least as much next spring.
It means there isn't as much to go around to equally-valuable players like Avril.
It's nobody's fault. It's just business in the NFL, which is all business.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.