Schwartz: Lions’ focus is on players already on roster

INDIANAPOLIS — Acknowledging his team will be active in free agency and continue building through the draft, coach Jim Schwartz said the Lions will prioritize re-signing their own players.

“I think it’s important for us as an organization to keep a lot of the players we already have before we start looking elsewhere,” Schwartz said.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz speaks to reporters Thursday at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. (Gary A. Vasquez/NFL)

One of those players would be defensive end Cliff Avril, who’s set to become a free agent after four years in the league but has made it clear he wants to avoid the franchise tag.

“A lot’s been made of Matt Stafford staying healthy for 16 games, (but) Cliff took a big step this year being on the field,” Schwartz said. “When you have guys that fit your scheme, guys that are young that you can continue to build with, I think they’re very important to us, and Cliff is obviously a guy that’s very important to us. He fits our scheme well; he was an impact player last year.”

After a career season — he recorded 11 sacks and six forced fumbles while playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career — Avril would likely command a high price tag on the open market, something that will probably limit the Lions’ pursuit of other marquee free agents.

“We’re going to be fairly tight on the cap, and that’s probably a good thing,” Schwartz said. “We said at the end of the season we spent a lot of time trying to get rid of bad players. It’s refreshing, trying to find ways to keep good players.”

– Aron Angel

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