The overwhelming consensus around Detroit is that Martin Mayhew has done an outstanding job since he replaced Matt Millen as the Lions' General Manager.
Mayhew, an eight year veteran player in the NFL, was a starting cornerback for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI. After retiring as a player, he earned his Juris Doctor (law degree) from the Georgetown University Law Center in 2000.
Mayhew joined the Lions front office in 2001 and was appointed senior vice president and assistant general manager in 2004. When Millen was fired on September 24, 2008, Mayhew was appointed acting GM.
He was officially given the job of Lions general manager on December 29, 2008.
Off to a good start
Mayhew's first move as acting GM was to outfox Jerry Jones by trading Lions wideout Roy Williams and a 2009 7th round draft pick to Dallas in exchange for the Cowboys' 2009 first, third and sixth round draft picks.
Detroit would later use those draft picks to select TE Brandon Pettigrew, WR Derrick Williams, and RB Aaron Brown, respectively.
Mayhew immediately began reorganizing the Lions' player personnel department, a task that culminated in the hiring of James "Shack" Harris as senior personnel executive. Harris had previously worked 22 years in scouting, including the prior six seasons as Jacksonville's vice president of player personnel.
Taking advantage of being "crappy"
Early in 2009, newly appointed head coach Jim Schwartz related a story, reported by Mike Silver on Yahoo! Sports, that best described Detroit's early rebuilding strategy.
"When I was interviewing one of the guys I ended up hiring as an assistant coach," Schwartz said, "he put it this way:"
'We've got the first overall pick, and five of the first 82 [draft picks]. We've got money to spend in free agency. Hey, let's take advantage of being crappy.'
"Only he didn't say 'crappy.'"
"I agree," added Schwartz. "We need to capitalize on this opportunity."
Each year, the NFL team with the worst record has first claim on players released from other teams.
Mayhew took full advantage of Detroit's prime position in the waiver pecking order to claim any player that he and Schwartz though might possibly help the Lions and giving them a good look.
In early March, Mayhew somehow managed to acquire Dallas CB Anthony Henry in a trade for QB Jon Kitna when it was common knowledge that the Lions were going to release Kitna anyway.
A little later in March, the Lions traded DT Cory Redding to Seattle in exchange for multiple Pro Bowl LB Julian Peterson.
Mayhew signed unrestricted free agent WR Bryant Johnson, RT Jon Janson, backup center Dylan Gandy, DT Grady Jackson, TE Will Heller, and RB Maurice Morris. He re-signed veterans K Jason Hanson and G Stephen Peterman.
Mayhew's first draft
Mayhew led what is widely viewed as a successful and creative 2009 draft, his first as general manager.
In addition to drafting franchise QB Matt Stafford with the first overall pick (awarded for having the "crappiest" record in NFL history), the Lions used their second first round pick (acquired in the Dallas-Roy Williams trade) on TE Brandon Pettigrew.
The Lions used their early second round pick on safety Louis Delmas.
Because the Lions needed to add so much talent to its team, Mayhew then got creative and traded Detroit's first selection of the third round to the Jets for a later third round pick, plus a fourth and seventh round pick.
With its newly positioned first third round pick from the Jets (76th overall pick) the Lions selected LB DeAndre Levy. The Lions then used its remaining third round pick (from the Dallas-Roy Williams trade) to draft WR Derrick Williams.
Detroit used its fourth round pick (acquired from the Jets) on DT Sammie Lee Hill, its sixth round pick (acquired in the Dallas-Roy Williams trade) on Aaron Brown, its first seventh round pick (also acquired from the Jets) on OT Lyndon Murtha, its second seventh round pick on Zack Follett, and its final seventh round pick on TE Dan Gronkowski.
Not a bad draft for a rookie GM and rookie head coach.
Mayhew continued to add talent to the Lions after the draft. He worked diligently to beef up the emaciated roster that he had inherited from Millen.
Detroit signed two-time Super Bowl veteran and Detroit native LB Larry Foote after his release from the Steelers. Mayhew traded safety Gerard Alexander to the Jags for WR Dennis Northcutt and signed DE Jason Hunter off waivers from Green Bay.
During the space of a week in the fall of 2009, the Lions claimed QB Kevin O'Connell from the Patriots and then promptly traded him to the Jets for what was reported to be a conditional late round draft choice.
The Jets had put in a claim for O'Connell after the Pats released him, but he was awarded to the Lions because of their 0-16 record in 2008.
It was a crafty move that took advantage of the Lions having a "crappy" record.
Mayhew acquired safety Ko Simpson from the Bills for an undisclosed 2010 draft pick and claimed DE Turk McBride from Kansas City.
Obviously, not every signing decision was ideal in terms of the Lions new long term rebuilding plan. But every decision was made with the goal of boosting the competitiveness of the team. Some worked out, some didn't.
For example, many people questioned the decision to bring Daunte Culpepper out of retirement in late 2008 and sign him to a two year contract.
It turned out that Detroit never won a game in which Culpepper played.
After a shoulder injury sidelined Matt Stafford in 2009, Culpepper quarterbacked the Lions to one of the worst defeats in their history, a 48-3 drubbing against the Ravens in Baltimore during Week 14.
Culpepper went 16-for-34 in that game for 135 yards and two interceptions.
After another poor performance during Week 15 against Arizona, Culpepper was benched and third string QB Drew Stanton was brought in.
2010: A work in progress
Martin Mayhew made up for the Daunte Culpepper signing in 2010 by acquiring San Francisco QB Shaun Hill in a trade for a seventh round 2011 draft pick. Hill had won 10 games in 16 starts for the 49ers over the last three years.
The Lions, by contrast, had won nine games total over the last three years.
Hill is OK with being a backup QB. Culpepper wasn't.
So far, Mayhew has done well in 2010. He signed Hill, RB De De Dorsey, and LB Ashlee Palmer from the Bills. He then acquired DT Corey Williams from the Browns in exchange for a 2010 seventh round pick.
Next came two high profile unrestricted free agent signings, WR Nate Burleson, and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Jim Schwartz camped out in Vanden Bosch's driveway just prior to the opening of the free agent signing period to convince him to join the Lions, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan did essentially the same thing with Burleson.
Mayhew signed them both.
Mayhew then signed CB Jonathan Wade, re-signed special teams demon LB Vinny Ciurciu, and acquired 2007 second round pick CB Chris Houston in a trade with Atlanta in exchange for the Lions 2010 sixth round pick and flip flopping fifth round picks.
Making yet another key acquisition, Mayhew traded DE Robert Henderson and a 2010 fifth round pick to the Seahawks in exchange for G Rob Sims and a 2010 seventh round pick, a move that seriously upgraded the Lions' very weak LG position.
Next Mayhew picked up another CB, Dante Wesley. You can never have enough competition at CB when you're rebuilding a poor secondary like the Lions are.
Displaying great creativity, Martin Mayhew then executed a brilliant three-team trade, sending Lions LB Ernie Sims to the Eagles to acquire TE Tony Scheffler and a seventh round 2010 pick from Denver, which in turn received a fifth round 2010 draft pick from the Eagles.
Mayhew guides Detroit through a second good draft.
Fortunately for Detroit, the St. Louis Ram's, who owned the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, had a desperate need for a QB. As a result, franchise DT Ndamukong Suh fell to the Lions with the second overall pick.
Responding to pressure from Jim Schwartz, Mayhew moved back into the first round to select speedy, juke-meister RB Jahvid Best by trading Detroit's second round pick to Minnesota. Detroit also received a fourth round pick in this trade.
Detroit then picked CB Amari Spievey in the third round, OT Jason Fox in the fourth round (with the pick acquired from Minnesota), and both DE Willie Young (with the pick acquired from Seattle) and Tim Toone (compensatory pick) in the seventh round (overall picks 213 and 255 respectively).
Among others, after the 2010 draft, Mayhew signed LB Caleb Campbell, special teams ace DE Chima Ihekwoaba, former Lions CB Dre Bly, and promising safety Randy Phillips.
A general manager's job is never done
The Lions had over 40 new players on the roster during the 2009 season that weren't on it in 2008. So far in 2010, the Lions' current roster lists about 30 players that weren't on the roster last year.
Many more players than were mentioned by name in this article have been signed and either may or already have been released and/or replaced.
This represents a lot of work on the part of Martin Mayhew and the Lions scouting department. Yet there's still a lot of work ahead of them. The cycle is never-ending when your goal is truly to win a Super Bowl.
Because every NFL team experiences injuries during the course of a year, new quality players must constantly be added to the mix, either to fill a starting position or to back up former backups who step up and fill in for injured starters.
It's a tough job, especially when both Mayhew and Schwartz clearly favor players with good character and work ethics. Quality players are hard to come by in the NFL.
The Lions have already lost LB and special teams player Jordan Dizon to injury for the year during their first preseason game against the Steelers. Dizon played in a position group that was already thin to begin with. Mayhew will have to beef up Detroit's linebacker corps very soon.
Detroit also needs a solid safety to start opposite Louis Delmas, and while there have been rumors about the Lions interest in the Chief's Jarrad Page, they remain only rumors at this point.
The entire Lions secondary has been nicked up pretty good even before the first regular season game has been played, including the broken finger Jonathan Wade suffered against Pittsburgh.
Mayhew has to constantly explore opportunities to strengthen the team at every position, especially the secondary position groups.
Martin Mayhew will have to continue to constantly work his magic until the Lions have first-rate talent at every starting position and solid backup depth behind the starters to smoothly handle inevitable injuries and retirements.
And then he'll still have to work it hard.
Mayhew has clearly proven that he's up to the task.
Detroit Lions fans finally have bright, competent young men at both the head coach and general manager position. Fortunately they work together well.
Mayhew and Schwartz, like many of the young, talented, hard-working players they drafted, will be with the Lions long after they win their first Super Bowl.