Detroit Lions: In Martin Mayhew We Trust

Rudy DominickCorrespondent IMay 6, 2009

DETROIT , MI - JANUARY 16:  Jim Schwartz, center, head coach of the Detroit Lions poses with General Manager Martin Mayhew, left, and Tom Lewand team president after a press conference to introduce him as the Lions new head coach on January 16, 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions offseason has led to a tremendous turnover in players totaling 26 new players at the current moment, counting new middle linebacker and Detroit native Larry Foote.

Foote’s signing fills a major hole in the Lion’s defense and has excited many fans. 

In Martin Mayhew’s first offseason as the Lions General Manager, it seems he has done an admirable job.  Houston sports reporter Richard Justice has known Mayhew for many years, even finding out Mayhew, a Washington Redskin cornerback at the time, was attending Georgetown Law School at night.  That same season the Redskins went 17-2 and won the Super Bowl. 

Justice kept the information quiet until after the Super Bowl, later publishing it after their Super Bowl victory. 

He had this to say about Mayhew’s appointment of General Manager, “There’s something right about hiring a really smart guy that has listened and learned and watched along the way.  It feels like things are going to change in Detroit, maybe quickly.  Of all the things you can call an 0-16 franchise, dumb is no longer one of them.” 

Mayhew played cornerback in the NFL for nine years with the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He played in college at Florida State.

Mayhew was 5’8” 154 lbs when he walked on to Florida State’s football team and played across from Deion Sanders.  It must have been good to play with top talent like Deion as in the NFL; Mayhew was opposite Hall of Famer Darrell Green in 1992, when the Redskins won the Super Bowl. 

He has achieved a tremendous amount off the field as well.

In 2004, Mayhew was ranked among Sports Illustrated’s “Top 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports”

Prior to joining the Lions, Mayhew was Director of Football Administration for the XFL, where he was instrumental in developing policies for the start-up league.  He was significantly involved in developing league procedures for player transactions and the draft. 

Mayhew has a law degree from Georgetown University and is a member of the Florida Bar.

His father was an elementary and middle school principal, who ran a strict household. His father told Mayhew, “Think for yourself, don’t follow the crowd.” 

Those words seem to have stuck with Mayhew. In only one offseason he has revamped the entire Lion’s roster.  Instead of fans commented on needing a whole new team, they find specific needs instead; whether it is a defensive tackle or another offensive lineman.

He added talented. Young head coach Jim Schwartz, the former defensive coordinator from the Tennessee Titans.  Former head coaches Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham will take their positions as offensive and defensive coordinators.  This coaching staff is a more stable, talented group than has been assembled in recent Lions history.

When former general manager Matt Millen was fired during the 2008 season, Mayhew took over as interim general manager.

Mayhew’s shrewd trade during his interim period saw the Lions acquire three draft picks from the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Roy Williams. 

The first round draft pick turned into another offensive weapon in tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who is a dominate blocker, mauling top college defensive player Brian Orakpo last season. 

Detroit added to its offensive arsenal with No. 1 overall pick quarterback Matthew Stafford.  Stafford and Pettigrew were considered the best player at their respective positions in the 2009 NFL Draft.

A slew of wide receivers have been added to the roster. In 2006, Bryant Johnson had 740 yards as the third receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, behind superstars Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  His 18.5 yards per catch average ranked third in the NFL. 

Ronald Curry, another addition has three seasons with around 700 yards.  Other pickups include Will Franklin, a 6’2” receiver with 4.3 speed, and third round selection Derrick Williams, who may contribute more in the return game as a rookie. 

Bryant Johnson and Ronald Curry have struggled when they bear the burden of the top receiver on their team. With Detroit they can worry about contributing instead of carrying the load which will be done by top NFL receiver Calvin Johnson.

Running back Maurice Morris gives the Lions a capable back to spell starter Kevin Smith or an insurance policy in case of an injury to Smith.  Morris has a career 4.3 average per carry.

The Lions haven’t added a stud player to the offensive line after missing out on guard Derrick Dockery, who signed with the Redskins for less money.  Detroit has added versatile lineman Daniel Loper and massive guard Toniu Fonoti, along with the re-signing of George Foster. 

Recently released left tackle Levi Jones could be a target for the Lions to shore up their line.  He is 29 years old and has a history of injuries which led to his release, though he is a productive player when healthy.  It's been reported that Detroit may be interested in Jones.

These players have improved the offense; yet improving the worst defense in the league in the last two years seemed more difficult, but not an impossible task for Mayhew.

Incoming rookie safety Louis Delmas looks to make in immediate impact on the defense, while other rookies linebackers DeAndre Levy and Zach Follett will have time to develop along with talented, yet raw defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill. 

Mayhew’s draft strategy of taking the best available player left the Lions without the amount of defensive players many fans hoped for.  He has many moves to improve the defense though, adding two quality linebackers:  Julian Peterson, a Pro Bowl linebacker and a two-time Super Bowl champion, Larry Foote.

He traded underweight, over-hyped DT Cory Redding to the Seattle Seahawks with a fifth round pick for Peterson. 

Mayhew also added veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson, who weights 345 lbs or more to stop the run.  Another veteran defensive end, Eric Hicks, was signed to add depth to the line.

Larry Foote will fill the middle linebacker position and along with Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims will be a top linebacking corps in the NFL.

The secondary was overhauled with the majority of last season’s starters out the door.  Louis Delmas will fill a safety position, while newcomers Phillip Buchanon, Eric King and Anthony Henry will battle for the vacant cornerback positions. 

Henry may end up at safety, with holdover safeties Gerald Alexander and Daniel Bullocks coming back from injuries.

It seems the Lions may be converting to a 3-4 scheme in the future, even showing some flashes of it this year.  Schwartz and Cunningham have experience in a 3-4 defense, along with players brought in this offseason Larry Foote and Eric Hicks.  Cliff Avril may play in a hybrid linebacker role on passing downs, instead of his usual defensive end position. 

Mayhew has transformed the Lions into a better team during his short tenure with the team. It seems likely the 2009 season will show the Lions are on the right track. 

Detroit is still not going to contend for a playoff berth this season, yet with another year of tinkering the future seems bright.