Since becoming the Lions Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager, Martin Mayhew has orchestrated a dramatic transformation of the Lions personnel and front office. Now in his 14th season with the Lions, Mayhew reports directly to Mrs. Ford on all football matters.
With 2014 marking Mayhew’s sixth season as the team’s executive football decision-maker, he continues to build the Lions roster through a plan that focuses on acquiring players with great football character who are smart and physically-tough.
The process of improving the Lions’ success on the field continued in January 2014 when the team hired a new head coach in Jim Caldwell.
Along with President Tom Lewand, Mayhew hired Caldwell to lead this franchise due to his experience coaching at a Championship level and has background utilizing effective schemes and emphasizing strong fundamentals.
Mayhew believes that Caldwell’s extensive experience, skill-set and success as both head coach and offensive coordinator will greatly benefit the team’s development. Caldwell led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl XLIV as head coach and won two Super Bowl titles (Super Bowl XLI with Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVII with Baltimore) as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. While with the Colts, Caldwell helped guide one of the greatest offensive dynasties in pro football history.
Mayhew also has reorganized and enhanced the team’s player personnel operations throughout his tenure as general manager, including the addition of experienced personnel executives, reorganizing scouting territories and launching a new scouting database to process information.
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.
One of his earliest and most important additions to the personnel department was the 2009 hiring of former NFL quarterback and long-time personnel executive James “Shack” Harris. Harris, entering his 37th season in the NFL this year, has worked 27 years in scouting, including six seasons and two playoff appearances as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ vice president of player personnel.
Mayhew’s improvement of the Lions player personnel operation continued in January 2013 when he added Brian Xanders, former Denver Broncos general manager, as one of the team’s senior personnel executives. Xanders, now in his 21st NFL season, has experience in a variety of player personnel, football operations and coaching roles gained during his time with the Broncos and Atlanta Falcons organizations. Xanders served four seasons as the Broncos general manager, including the 2011 season when Denver won the 2011 AFC West Division title. Since joining the Lions, Xanders has overseen the creation of a new proprietary personnel database and analytical program that has greatly enhanced and aided the team’s scouting operation and also assisted with the college draft.
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.
Mayhew originally joined the Lions’ front office in February, 2001, 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). That season marked only the sixth time the team won 10 games in the regular season.
As the Lions entered the 2014 free agency period, two key areas of need were wide receiver and safety. Mayhew responded with the signing of WR Golden Tate, fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Seattle Seahawks, and S James Ihedigbo, who was instrumental in the Baltimore Ravens defense that won the Super Bowl two years ago.
Since assuming the organization’s top football position in October, 2008, Mayhew has completed 27 trades involving veteran players and draft picks. 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.
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.
BUILDING THE CORE
Mayhew understands the best rosters in the NFL begin with successful drafts. Mayhew’s rookie class in 2013 saw seven first-year players start for the team, with three draft picks earning starting berths.
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 three seasons that is unrivaled in the history of 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 his first five seasons, Stafford has claimed the team’s career (17,457), season (5,038) and single-game (520) passing records for yards. He is just one of two players in NFL history to throw for 4,500 yards in three consecutive seasons, and he reached 15,000 career passing yards faster (53 games) than any player in NFL history. He is also the fourth-fastest player to throw for 100 career touchdowns (55 games). Additionally, Stafford now owns the team’s franchise record with 48 consecutive starts (49 including postseason) by a quarterback.
Despite the fact that he will play in his sixth NFL season, Stafford is still just 26-years old heading into the 2014 season.
Along with Stafford, Mayhew’s first draft also produced two other starters in TE Brandon Pettigrew and LB DeAndre Levy, who both signed long-term contract extensions over the past two seasons. Pettigrew owns several single-season receiving records by Lions tight ends and Levy broke out last season with six interceptions, the most by a Lions linebacker since Hall of Fame LB Joe Schmidt in 1958.
Mayhew obtained three-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro DT Ndamukong Suh in his second draft in 2010. Suh anchors the defense and leads a unit that forms the aggressive heartbeat to the defensive side of the ball.
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 11.5 sacks over the past two years, including 6.0 in 2013.
The Lions first-round draft pick in 2012, T Riley Reiff, has moved right into the left tackle spot following the retirement of 12-year veteran Jeff Backus. His anchoring of the team’s left side of the offensive line led to one of the most productive seasons by the team’s offensive line in team history. 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.
Universally touted as the team’s best draft class under Mayhew, the 2013 class produced several starters and key contributors throughout the draft and via the undrafted free agents. All 11 members of that class will start or compete for roster positions to provide depth on this year’s team.
Taken fifth overall, DE Ezekiel Ansah led the Lions with 8.0 sacks as a rookie and will continue to force the edge at defensive end. Second-round CB Darius Slay will seek to take a big step in year two and provide support at one of the team’s corner positions. In Round 3, Detroit drafted G Larry Warford to help anchor the team’s interior offensive line at the right guard position. Warford was named Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Focus as well as all-rookie by several publications. In the fifth round, the team traded up to select P Sam Martin, who not only set the team’s single-season net punting record (40.4) but also has the second-highest tally by a rookie in NFL history. Martin also contributed greatly on kickoffs, registering 38 touchbacks.
Solidifying the strength of this class were the signings of TE Joseph Fauria and T LaAdrian Waddle as undrafted free agents. Fauria caught seven touchdown passes, the second-most in a season by a Lions tight end. Waddle made the roster and started eight of the last nine games of the season.
Mayhew maximizes his resources in an effort to not only strengthen the team by improving individual talent, but also 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 four-time Pro Bowl selection. After signing a new eight-year contract in March 2012, Johnson is now entering his eighth 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 elevated his game the past three seasons to historical proportions. In 2013, he became the first player in NFL history to register 5,000 receiving yards over a three-year stretch and he now holds the NFL career record for average yards per game (88.0). In 2012, Johnson broke Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record when he recorded 1,964 yards. He also set records in 2012 for the most consecutive 100-yard games (eight) 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.
Over the past three years, the NFL Network poll of current players ranked Johnson as the only player within the Top 3 in each of those three seasons. This year he was voted as the second-best player overall.
Few teams feature a group of talented tight ends who offer multiple dimensions as do the Lions. Sixth-year TE Brandon Pettigrew, who re-signed a four-year contract extension this past offseason, 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, he is joined by Fauria and Eric Ebron, the Lions 2014 first-round selection who presents matchup challenges for opponents with their 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, drafted players such as Reiff and Warford and acquired Waddle to retool the team’s offensive line. Last year, the offensive front allowed the second-lowest sack total (23) in the NFL, which was also the third-lowest in team history. They paved the way for Lions running backs to average 173.1 total yards per game, the third-highest average among running backs.
With the free agent signing of RB Reggie Bush in 2013, the Lions attacked opponents with multiple and diverse weapons out of the backfield, utilizing the complementary skills of Bush and RB Joique Bell. Combined, Bush and Bell became the first tandem of running backs in NFL history to each garner 500 rushing and 500 receiving yards in the same season. Bush rushed for over 1,000 yards and registered over 500 receiving yards, becoming the first Lions running back to accomplish this feat since RB Billy Sims in 1980.
On defense, the team’s ability to disrupt opponent offenses starts upfront with the Lions defensive line. Over the past four years, it has led the Lions defense with its ability to attack upfront and disrupt opponents offenses. Since 2010, the Lions defensive linemen have registered 130.5 sacks, third-most in the NFL among defensive line units.
The defensive line is led in the middle by Suh and Fairley. Over the past two seasons, they have combined for 25 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss on rushing plays. On the outside, Ansah’s 8.0 sacks also led all rookies last year.
At linebacker, the team returns starters Stephen Tulloch in the middle and 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.
Levy proved to be one of the NFL’s biggest playmakers last year at outside linebacker when he garnered six interceptions, tied for second-most in the NFL and most among linebackers.
In the secondary, the Lions are led by Glover Quin and Ihedigbo at safety. Quin joined the Lions in 2013 and settled the team’s free safety position and added great leadership to the overall defense. Ihedigbo will join Quin at the safety position, along with S Don Carey to control the team’s secondary. On the outside, the Lions return second-year CB Darius Slay and veteran CB Rashean Mathis along with Bentley and Green, who have contributed over the past two years.
Martin provided a spark to the Lions special teams as a punter and kickoff specialist and will be called upon for years to come. Mayhew is now seeking to solidify the kicking position and drafted K Nate Freese, a 2014 seventh-round pick, to potentially fill that role.
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, including 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 six 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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