- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2011

ALLEN PARK, MICH. (AP) - Cliff Avril welcomed a son Wednesday night and returned to work less than 24 hours later.

The Detroit Lions‘ defensive end signed a one-year qualifying offer Thursday morning and joined the rest of the team’s free agents on the practice field for the first time. The restricted free agent could be in for quite a haul by the end of the season.

“This is a big year for Cliff,” coach Jim Schwartz said of Avril, whose deal is worth about $3 million. “He’s always been productive when he’s been on the field but as far as being healthy and playing 16 games, it’s a big thing for him.

“His speed-rush ability, his athletic ability, it’s very important to us.”

The four-year veteran had a career-best 8 1/2 sacks last season while starting all 13 games he played.

He has 19 career sacks and eight forced fumbles, both better numbers than Kansas City’s Tamba Hali, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal on Wednesday.

“More motivation,” Avril said after hearing the comparison of career stats. “It’s good to see guys get money (if they get) after the quarterback, and hopefully I can be one of those guys.”

He should get plenty of chances to make an impact playing next to tackles Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams, each of whom should be disruptive in the middle of what could be one the NFL’s best defensive lines. Injured rookie Nick Fairley, who’ll miss several weeks after foot surgery, will add even more power up the middle when he returns.

Kyle Vanden Bosch lines up on the strong side and should get plenty of attention from opposing defenses.

“I’m here to play football and get sacks,” Avril said. “I’ll let my play work for me and we’ll go from there.

“If the (defensive line) sticks together, we can do some great things. I trained with Kyle during the offseason, so why wouldn’t I want to be here?”

Lions president Tom Lewand said the franchise is committed to keeping a young core of players together, but would not say if the team was negotiating a longer deal. Avril said he would leave any such matters to his agent and didn’t feel the lack of a long-term deal would be a frustration during the coming season. He added that he hopes he’s in Detroit’s long-term plans.

“I was part of the 0-16 (2008) team and I definitely want to be on a championship team here,” he said.

He and his fellow free agents had to wait a few minutes to hit the field Thursday afternoon while the team awaited word of the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement. They made a dramatic entrance, coming from under a half-closed roll-up door while shouting “we’re free” about eight minutes after the rest of the team began stretching.

The Lions delayed the start of practice more than 30 minutes while they waited for word from the league office that the NFL year had officially begun.

Avril’s son Xavier _ a future basketball player _ his father insists, was resting comfortably with his mother at the hospital.

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