Although their playoff appearance was brief, merely making the post-season was a massive accomplishment for the Lions. This is a franchise with a historic winless season still lingering not too far away in their rear-view mirror, and they were the languishing laughingstock of the league for the past decade largely because of Matt Millen’s haunting ineptitude.

Now that’s changed, and the offense boasts one of the game’s elite receivers with rare physical gifts, and he receives passes from a quarterback who threw for over 5,000 yards with 41 touchdowns this year. For the first time in a very long time, there’s life and excitement around the Lions.

But there’s still one problem, although it’s a good one to have, and also a common one in today’s NFL. All that sucking led to high draft picks, particularly between 2007 and 2010, when Detroit had the first overall pick once (Matthew Stafford), and the second overall pick twice (Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh). Players can bust anywhere in the first round, but the higher the pick, the more the likelihood of busting decreases.

Suh, Stafford, and Johnson are kind of good now. The problem with consistently sucking and then drafting at a high position is that while it’ll speed up the climb from the basement, it also accelerates the speed of your cap crunch when those players start to give the expected return for their lofty draft position.

That’s where the Lions are now as they continue to quite literally pay the price for being really awful for a really long time. The league’s salary cap will hover somewhere around $120 million, and combined Suh, Stafford, and Johnson will account for nearly half of that number ($52 million) next year. Add up the rest of the roster, and Detroit currently has roughly $8 million in cap room.

A few difficult decisions will have to be made, which likely means that a key piece of Detroit’s pass rush–the defense’s strength last year after they finished with 41 sacks–will be gone. Defensive end Cliff Avril had 11 of those sacks along with six forced fumbles and an interception. He’ll be a free agent on March 13, and he’s been open about his contact situation, saying that negotiations are moving slowly with Detroit, and that he’d consider holding out if he received the franchise tag.

Avril wouldn’t fully commit to that stance yesterday while speaking with Mike Freeman, but he recognizes his brief window to cash in, and it sounds like he wants his pay day now.

“Basically, right now negotiations with the Lions are going very slowly. I think the reason why is a little bit of everything. The team has very little cap space and who knows, I’m not so sure they want to keep me. They may not.

“I’m not saying if they franchise me, I’m holding out. I’m saying it’s possible. I don’t want the tag, and one of the only recourses for someone like me is if I don’t want the tag, I either bite the bullet and accept it or hold out. Of course holding out is something you think about. I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but it’s possible. That’s all I’m saying.”

The business reality of the NFL dictates this scenario every offseason for a handful of teams, which is why raw, cheaper talent with potentially equal upside is always waiting on depth charts after arriving through the draft. So if and when Avril goes, Nick Fairley is ready to accept a larger role next year on Detroit’s defensive line.

There will be a drop off, but that’s the price tag for being really bad, and wanting to be really good.

And the rest…

  • Last June Tom Martinez was given two weeks to live, but Tom Brady’s long-time personal coach fought and lived much longer than that before passing away yesterday. [San Francisco Chronicle]
  • After a preseason game in the Bills Toronto Series was wiped off the slate yesterday, officials didn’t have much to say when pressed for an explanation. But Rogers president Keith Pelley did say that the number of regular-season games won’t be increased. [Inside the Bills]
  • A trade involving Robert Griffin III at the top of the draft already feels inevitable, and in his latest mock draft Pat Kirwan has the Redskins jumping up and swapping picks with the Rams at No. 2. [CBS Sports]
  • Todd McShay thinks that Ryan Tannehill is a possibility for the Seahawks in the first round. [ESPN Seattle]
  • Warren Moon’s ex-wife knows how to have inappropriate fun in the woods. [Busted Coverage]
  • Rumors of Mike Wallace leaving Pittsburgh could be greatly exaggerated, and the interest from other teams smells of a smoke screen. A smoke screen? In late February? The nerve. [Behind the Steel Curtain]
  • I’m not sure why anyone would have serious doubts about Justin Blackmon’s elite ability. But if those people are indeed out there, then a thorough breakdown of some key plays in the Fiesta Bowl will help. [Hogs Haven]
  • There’s still a slim chance that Andrew Luck will throw at the Scouting Combine this week. [Joe Shad]
  • This isn’t surprising, but it’s pretty much official that the Chad Henne era is over in Miami. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]