Since becoming the Lions Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager, Martin Mayhew has orchestrated a dramatic transformation of a team that resulted in the Lions making its first playoff appearance last year after 12 seasons.
With 2012 marking Mayhew’s fourth season as the team’s executive football decision-maker, he continues to build the Lions roster through a plan that focuses on developing a physically-tough football team with the multi-dimensional players that Head Coach Jim Schwartz covets. Mayhew adamantly believes that smart players with great football character should lead this franchise. Now in his 12th season with the Lions, Mayhew reports directly to Mr. Ford on all football matters.
The process of improving the Lions success on the field began to take shape in January 2009 with the team’s search for a new head coach. Along with President Tom Lewand, Mayhew searched for a coach who shared his philosophies and possessed the following characteristics: strong communication and leadership skills; a track record of success in the NFL; demonstrated ability to overcome adversity; the right mixture of youth and experience; and a coach with enthusiasm and energy for the challenge ahead.
The search concluded with the hiring of Schwartz, who served eight years (2001-08) as the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator before coming to Detroit. Schwartz is unique because he had tremendous experience as a coordinator and position coach in the NFL, but he also previously worked in player personnel when he began his NFL career. These attributes appealed to Mayhew, and both have worked in concert on free agency and the draft.
Along with the coaching staff, Mayhew re-organized the team’s player personnel department. From the start of the 2009 off-season, the team set out to add a personnel executive who was successful in overseeing both pro and college scouting in the NFL.
That was completed with the hiring of James “Shack” Harris, who now has worked 25 years in scouting, including the six seasons as Jacksonville’s vice president of player personnel. Along with the hiring of Harris, the Lions’ player personnel department, under Mayhew’s direction, underwent a geographical realignment that improved the team’s scouting operations.
In his role, Mayhew oversees the player personnel department, including college and pro scouting, and plays an integral role in the coordination of the team’s salary cap objectives and negotiation of player contracts. Mayhew and Lewand collectively work on all team matters pertaining to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement and League policies and procedures.
In addition to his duties, the coordination of all football operations, managed day-to-day by Vice President of Football Operations Cedric Saunders, is under the direction of Mayhew. This includes team travel, training camp operations, security, medical staff, equipment operations, video department and cafeteria staff. Mayhew also works on many of the Lions’ football-related legal matters.
In February 2001, Mayhew joined the Lions’ front office as senior director of football administration/staff counsel. He was promoted to senior vice president of football administration/legal affairs on February 3, 2003 affairs, and on October 14, 2004, he was appointed senior vice president and assistant general manager.
Along with free agency and the draft, Mayhew utilizes every resource, including trades and the league’s waiver wire process, year-round to improve the team’s roster from top to bottom.
Significant change to the team’s roster over the past three seasons underscores Mayhew’s 24/7 philosophy and approach to improving the team’s roster. The 2011 opening day active roster included only 10 players (81 percent turnover) remaining with the club from 2008, including six starters.
In 2011, Mayhew’s approach paid dividends when the Lions won 10 regular-season games for the first time since 1995 and also earned a playoff berth for the first time since 1999. Only twice in the team’s previous 78 seasons had a Lions team won more than 10 regular-season games (11 in 1962 and 12 in 1991). Last season marked only the sixth time the team won 10 games in the regular season.
Mayhew’s roster overhaul during his first three seasons has now resulted in a more talented and stable roster.
This year, 21 of the 22 starters from last season return. Retaining quality veteran players, like WR Calvin Johnson and LB Stephen Tulloch, both of whom signed new long-term contracts this offseason, has become a greater priority.
Mayhew expects this consistency, along with his approach to never stop looking for upgraded talent, to pay even greater dividends in the near future.
MASTER OF TRADE
When Mayhew first assumed the role of interim general manager in October 2008, he immediately began evaluating and upgrading the roster. Since then, he has completed 22 trades for players and/or draft picks, including a total of 10 trades in 2010 and three draft-day trades in 2012.
Several veterans acquired by Mayhew via trade have contributed to the Lions as starters or improved the team’s depth, including: DT Corey Williams, QB Shaun Hill, CB Chris Houston, DE Lawrence Jackson, G Rob Sims, TE Tony Scheffler and CB Alphonso Smith. Hill, Houston, Sims and Scheffler have all signed contract extensions with the club.
Two of Mayhew’s trades generated additional first round draft picks in 2009 and 2010. It marked the first time in franchise history that the Lions have made two selections in the first round of the draft in back-to-back seasons. Those additional picks allowed the Lions to draft TE Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and RB Jahvid Best with the 30th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
BUILDING THE CORE
Though Mayhew often says the draft is not the finish line, he understands that the best rosters in the NFL begin with shrewd drafting each and every year.
The team’s 2009 and 2010 drafts under Mayhew’s direction have generated highly productive classes, including eight players (2009: QB Matthew Stafford, Pettigrew, S Louis Delmas, LB DeAndre Levy and DT Sammie Hill; 2010: DT Ndamukong Suh, Best and S Amari Spievey) who form a nucleus of talented, young players that undoubtedly will lead this franchise for years to come.
While each of his personnel decisions will impact the team’s performance, it may be Mayhew’s very first draft choice as general manager that could have the greatest long-term impact. That selection, QB Matthew Stafford, had arguably the greatest single season performance ever for a Lions quarterback in 2011.
Stafford, who was slowed by injuries his first two seasons, had one of the biggest breakout seasons ever last year when he set franchise passing records for yards (5,038) and touchdowns (41). He led the team to several comeback wins, including an NFL record three wins after trailing by 17+ points, four after training by 13+ points and two 20+-point comebacks in back-to-back-weeks. Stafford’s passing numbers last year were among the best single-season totals in NFL history. His performance earned him the AP Comeback Player of the Year award. Despite the fact that he will be entering his fourth NFL season in 2012, Stafford does not turn 25-years-old until February 2013.
DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Jahvid Best highlighted Mayhew’s 2010 Draft Class. Suh made an immediate mark on the NFL during his rookie season by being named AP Defensive Player of the Year, All-Pro and voted as a starter to the Pro Bowl. He set a Lions rookie record with 10 sacks and became the second rookie defensive tackle to register 10 sacks in the NFL since 1982. Best, though he battled through toe injuries throughout his rookie season, led the team in rushing, set a team rookie record for receptions and became the first rookie to score five touchdowns in their first two games since RB Billy Sims in 1980.
Mayhew maximizes his resources in an effort to not only strengthen the team by improving individual talent, but by strengthening each position unit from top to bottom. Instead of just featuring some standout players, this team now moves forward with deep, talented position groups.
On defense, the team’s ability to disrupt opponent offenses starts upfront with the Lions defensive line. Over the past two years, it has led the Lions defense with its ability to attack. In 2010, it was the most-improved defensive line unit in all of the NFL, accounting for 39 of the team’s 44 sacks. That season, it registered 23.5 more sacks than in 2009 and line play was a big factor in the defensive unit allowing 46.9 yards less per game (highest improvement in NFL) and 125 less points (highest improvement in NFL). In 2011, the defensive linemen garnered 35 of the team’s 41 sacks, and its pressure helped the team tie for the third-most takeaways (34) and record the most defensive return touchdowns (7) in the NFL.
Mayhew bolstered that unit over the past two years by combining DE Vanden Bosch (unrestricted free agent), DT Corey Williams (trade) , DT Ndamukong Suh (second overall draft pick and 2010 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year) and DE Cliff Avril to form the starting unit. Vanden Bosch not only provides a tenacious motor on the outside, but he also provides veteran leadership on and off the field that helps guide this team. The team’s deep defensive line also features productive players who significantly contribute in the team’s rotation, including DE Lawrence Jackson (a former first round pick from Seattle acquired via trade), third-year DE Willie Young (a 2010 seventh-round pick), DT Sammie Hill, DT Nick Fairley (winner of the 2010 Lombardi Award, a consensus All-American and AP SEC Defensive Player of the Year) and veteran DT Andre Fluellen.
At linebacker, the team returns all three starters (Tulloch, DE Deandre Levy and LB Justin Durant) for the first time since 2007, and Mayhew has used the draft over the last two years, with the additions of LB Doug Hogue in 2010 and LB Tahir Whitehead and LB Travis Lewis in 2011, to bolster the position’s depth. Tulloch had career highs in sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries in his first season with Detroit. The importance of re-signing Tulloch to a long-term deal was not understated by Mayhew as he referred to him as the quarterback on defense. Tulloch’s knowledge of the schemes and ability to attack from the linebacker spot gives the team an anchor in the middle.
In the secondary, the Lions return four players who started (S Louis Delmas, S Amari Spievey, CB Chris Houston and Aaron Berry) in 2011, along with veteran S Erik Coleman, who missed all of last year due to injury. To add depth, Mayhew signed free agents CB Jacob Lacey and S Sean Jones and selected three cornerbacks, Dwight Bently, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green, in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Offensively, wide receiver and tight end have become positions of strength to compliment Stafford at quarterback.
Leading the receivers is Johnson, who combines unparalleled athletic ability and size with an outstanding work ethic that has resulted in him now being considered among the very best players in the game.
In 2011, he earned his second-straight Pro Bowl nod and was named All-Pro. He set a team record with 16 touchdown catches, and he accumulated the second-most receiving yards (1,681) in team history when he led the NFL in that category. Including the playoff game, Johnson registered over 200 receiving yards in three of the team’s final four games. With the long-term extension completed, Johnson will remain a critical component as the team pushes to greater heights. This past offseason his ranking as the third best player in the NFL in an NFL Network poll of current players was the highest for any non-quarterback.
While Johnson leads the receiver group, veteran WR Nate Burleson and second-year WR Titus Young accompany him to give the Lions inside and outside receiving threats. Burleson set a career-high with 73 receptions last year, and his veteran leadership continues to positively impact the team in many ways. Young offers another deep threat on the outside, and the Lions added to that unit in the draft by selecting WR Ryan Broyles, who set the NCAA all-time career record for receptions at Oklahoma.
Few teams feature a group of talented tight ends who offer multiple dimensions as do the Lions. Fourth-year TE Brandon Pettigrew re-wrote the record books for Lions tight ends each of the past two seasons, and TE Tony Scheffler presents matchup challenges for opponents with his size, speed and ability to flex out wide. In 2011, Pettigrew and Scheffler combined for 11 touchdown passes. Veteran TE Will Heller adds power and the ability to flex in the backfield as a fullback.
Upfront, the Lions have featured the most consistent lineup on offensive line for the team since the early 1980s. Returning starters LT Jeff Backus, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman and RT Gosder Cherilus became the Lions’ first offensive line to start the same five players to begin the 2011 season since the team did so from 1980-82. Backus became the Lions all-time leader in consecutive starts last year by ending the season with 176. This consistency helped the Lions finish in the Top-10 in fewest sacks yielded per pass play.
As Mayhew seeks to upgrade talent, he added 2012 first-round pick T Riley Reiff to compete for a starting spot and to provide another building block on the line for the future.
The running back position should give the Lions another threat on offense as Best, second-year RB Mikel Leshoure and RB Kevin Smith return healthy in 2012.
On special teams, the Lions once again feature one of the NFL all-time great kickers in Jason Hanson, whose 126 points in 2011 were the fourth-most in team history. In his 20th NFL season last year, Hanson connected on five 50-yard field goals, became the first player to hit 50 career 50-yard field goals and set an NFL record for most games played with one team.
The team’s special teams units are led by John Wendling, a Pro Bowl alternate. He once again was among the League leaders in special team’s tackles.
Throughout his journey leading up to his current post, Mayhew has always kept an eye toward the future, as evidenced by his strategic exposure to several jobs and internships while earning his law degree from Georgetown’s Law Center (2000). He is one of two Lions’ front office executives with law degrees.
During the 1999 NFL season, while attending law school, Mayhew served a nine-month internship in the Washington Redskins’ pro personnel department, which exposed him to the responsibilities of an NFL scouting department. While with the Redskins, he scouted NFL players and late NFL cuts and worked the waiver wire and also assisted in the evaluation of college players for the 2000 NFL Draft. Mayhew also had two separate internship stints with the NFL in both the labor operations and legal departments.
In labor operations, Mayhew worked closely with NFL executives on issues involving player contracts and the salary cap. With the legal department, Mayhew assisted the NFL’s in-house labor counsel by researching legal issues, digesting cases in preparation for arbitration hearings and drafting legal memoranda related to player injury and non-injury grievances. He also was exposed to corporate law while working for Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, L.L.P. in Washington D.C., one of the NFL’s primary firms used as outside counsel. At Akin Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, he researched legal issues, wrote legal documents and assisted firm associates and partners in preparation for litigation.
Mayhew played nine years in the NFL as a cornerback for Buffalo (1988), Washington (1989-92) and Tampa Bay (1993-96). He was the Bills’ 10th-round selection in the 1988 NFL draft and was a starter on the Redskins’ Super Bowl XXVI championship team.
He entered the League after graduating from Florida State with a Bachelors of Science degree in business management. While at FSU, he was a National Merit and Achievement Scholar and earned GTE CoSida Academic All-America honors. He was also a two-sport athlete, lettering on both the Seminoles’ football and track teams. Between graduation and the draft, Mayhew was a corporate trainee at First Union National Bank in Charlotte, N.C.
OFF THE FIELD
Throughout his professional career, Mayhew has contributed to several community endeavors both as a player and as an executive. In 1993, while playing for Tampa Bay, Mayhew was given the Chelo Huerta Community Service Award, and the following year he was a nominee for the True Value Hardware Man of the Year. From 1995-96, Mayhew was the Bucs’ United Way Spokesperson. Mayhew is a member of the Florida Bar and the Sports Lawyers Association. Additionally, Mayhew is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
For the past four years, he has hosted the Martin Mayhew Youth Football Coaching Academy for approximately 100 coaches from Think Detroit PAL. The purpose of the camp is to provide additional teaching and training tools for coaches so they can continue having a positive and long-lasting impact on the young lives they touch through youth football.
Mayhew and his wife, Sabrina, have a daughter, Sierra, and two sons, Ryan and Justin.