Since becoming the Lions Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager, Martin Mayhew has orchestrated a dramatic transformation of a team that in 2011 resulted in the Lions making their first playoff appearance in more than a decade.
With 2013 marking Mayhew’s fifth 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 13th season with the Lions, Mayhew reports directly to Mr. Ford on all football matters.
The search concluded with the hiring of Schwartz, who most recently 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 reorganized the team’s player personnel department. From the start of the 2009 offseason, the team set out to add a personnel executive who was successful in overseeing both pro and college scouting in the NFL. That was accomplished with the hiring of James “Shack” Harris, who now has worked 26 years in scouting, including six seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ vice president of player personnel.
Mayhew’s improvement of the Lions player personnel operation continued this past January when he added former Denver Broncos general manager Brian Xanders as one of the team’s senior personnel executives. Xanders, now in his 20th NFL season, brings experience in a variety of player personnel, football operations and coaching roles gained during his time with the Broncos and Atlanta Falcons organizations. Xanders recently served four seasons as the Broncos general manager, including the 2011 season when Denver won the 2011 NFC West Division title. Since joining the Lions, Xanders has overseen the creation of a new proprietary personnel database and analytical program that is expected to greatly enhance and aid the team’s scouting operation and also assist with the college draft.
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, 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 four seasons underscores Mayhew’s 24/7 philosophy and approach to improving the team’s roster. Only three players remain from the 2008 roster when Mayhew began overseeing its development.
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). It marked only the sixth time the team won 10 games in the regular season.
With each year taking on its own dynamic, Mayhew continues to find areas of improvement as the Lions seek to return to the playoffs in 2013. One example of this was the Lions’ selectively aggressive approach to free agency this past offseason to acquire proven veteran talent and improve key areas. On the first day of free agency, Detroit signed RB Reggie Bush, DE Jason Jones and S Glover Quin. Bush provides a dual-threat at running back that gives the Lions’ potent offense an additional dynamic weapon out of the backfield. Jones adds size to the team’s aggressive pass rush, and Quin is a veteran playmaker in the team’s defensive backfield.
Neither free agency nor the draft is ever the finish line for Mayhew as he continues to seek an upgrade in talent by any means to develop and improve the team’s roster.
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 24 trades for veteran players and draft picks.
Among the veterans acquired by Mayhew via trade that have contributed to the Lions as starters or improved the team’s depth include QB Shaun Hill, CB Chris Houston, G Rob Sims and TE Tony Scheffler. All four have signed contract extensions since joining 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.
BUILDING THE CORE
Mayhew understands that the best rosters in the NFL begin with successful drafting each and every year. Since 2009, Mayhew has built this roster around young talent at all positions with several of those players forming the core that will lead this team in 2013.
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, produced at a level the past two seasons that is unrivaled in the history the franchise.
Stafford had one of the biggest breakout seasons in 2011 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 trailing by 13+ points and two 20+-point comebacks in back-to-back-weeks. His performance earned him the 2011 AP Comeback Player of the Year award.
In 2012, Stafford continued to pass that ball and move the offense at a record pace. The Lions offense finished third in the NFL and set new franchise records with 6,540 total yards and 4,927 passing yards. Stafford finished second in the NFL with 4,967 passing yards and first with 435 completions.
Despite the fact that he will be entering his fifth NFL season in 2013, Stafford is still just 25-years old heading into the 2013 season.
Along with Stafford, Mayhew’s first draft also produced three other starters in TE Brandon Pettigrew, who has set multiple single-season receiving records for Lions tight ends, S Louis Delmas and LB DeAndre Levy.
Mayhew obtained two-time Pro Bowl DT Ndamukong Suh in his second draft in 2010. Suh anchors the defense and will lead a refreshed defensive line. Later in the draft, the Lions drafted T Jason Fox in the fourth round and DE Willie Young in the seventh round, who are both battling for starting positions this season.
In 2011, DT Nick Fairley was taken with the 13th overall pick. Despite battling injuries, Fairley proved that he could disrupt opponents’ offenses alongside Suh as he collected 5.5 sacks in 2012.
Last year’s first-round draft pick T Riley Reiff saw valuable action throughout the season and is expected to anchor the left tackle spot following the retirement of 12-year veteran Jeff Backus. Second-rounder Ryan Broyles adds value to the offense in the slot, and three cornerbacks, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonté Green are all competing for key spots in the Lions secondary.
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.
Offensively, wide receiver and tight end have become positions of strength and a critical complement to Stafford at quarterback.
Leading the receivers is All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson, who is a three-time Pro Bowl selection. After signing a new eight-year contract in March 2012, Johnson is now entering his seventh year with the club. He 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.
While he produced at a high level early in his career, Johnson, the past two seasons, elevated his game to historical proportions.
In 2012, Johnson broke Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record when he recorded 1,964 yards. No receiver has registered more yards (3,645) over a two-year period. He also set records in 2012 for the most consecutive 100-yard games (8) and tied an NFL record with 11 100-yard games in a season.
In 2011, Johnson set a team record with 16 touchdown catches, and he accumulated 1,681 receiving yards, now the third-most in team history.
For the second year in a row, the NFL Network poll of current players ranked Johnson third-highest overall. He is the only player in the NFL ranked in the Top 3 in each of the past two seasons.
While Johnson leads the receiver group, veteran WR Nate Burleson and second-year WR Ryan Broyles accompany him to give the Lions inside and outside receiving threats. Burleson set a career-high with 73 receptions in 2011, and his veteran leadership continues to positively impact the team in many ways.
Few teams feature a group of talented tight ends who offer multiple dimensions as do the Lions. Fifth-year TE Brandon Pettigrew re-wrote the record books for Lions tight ends in 2010 and 2011, and he continues to move toward threatening the team’s career receiving records by tight ends. Along with Pettigrew, TE Tony Scheffler presents matchup challenges for opponents with his size, speed and ability to flex out wide.
Upfront, the Lions have worked diligently to improve the offensive line after the departure of Jeff Backus and two other 2012 starters. C Dominic Raiola is the only starting offensive lineman remaining prior to 2008. Since then, Mayhew has signed free agents G Rob Sims and T Corey Hilliard and drafted players such as T Jason Fox, T Riley Reiff and G Larry Warford to retool the team’s offensive line.
With the free agent signing of Bush, the Lions expect to attack opponents with multiple and diverse weapons out of the backfield, utilizing the complimentary skills of running backs Bush, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell.
On defense, the team’s ability to disrupt opponent offenses starts upfront with the Lions defensive line. Over the past three years, it has led the Lions defense with its ability to attack. Since 2010, the Lions have registered 105 sacks, the most among defensive line units.
The defensive line is led in the middle by Suh and Fairley. Last year, the Lions defensive tackles led all NFL DT groups with 15.5 sacks, 36 negative plays (sacks and losses on rushing plays) and 20.5 tackles for losses on rushing plays.
This year, they will be complemented on the outside with Jones, who was obtained in free agency from Seattle, Young and Ansah.
At linebacker, the team returns two of its three starters with Stephen Tulloch in the middle and DeAndre Levy at one of the outside spots. In 2011, Tulloch had career highs in sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries in his first season with Detroit, which led to him signing a new five-year contact in the following offseason. 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 are led by Houston at cornerback, who signed a new five-year deal this past offseason. He will be joined by Quin, Delmas and Don Carey at safety, along with Ron Bartell, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Jonté Green and Darius Slay at cornerback. Bentley, Greenwood and Green are all members of the 2012 draft class and Slay was the Lions second round selection in 2013.
Though the Lions return Pro Bowl LS Don Muhlbach and S John Wendling, one of the best cover specialists in the league, the team enters 2013 with a new kicker and punter, marking the first time since the 1977 season that both positions will have new players. The team signed six-time Pro Bowl K David Akers following the retirement of Jason Hanson, one of the team’s all-time greats. Mayhew also drafted rookie P Sam Martin in the fifth round to compete for the new spot at punter.
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 three Lions’ front office executives and administrators 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 Bachelor 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. Additionally, Mayhew is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village and Board of Directors of Detroit PAL.
For the past five years, he has hosted the Martin Mayhew Youth Football Coaching Academy for approximately 100 coaches from 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.
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