After the last decade the Lions GM position became associated with one-liners, punchlines and synonymous with failure. The Lions are 1-4 five games into the 2010 season but there is a definite sense that the culture is finally changing in Detroit. The Lions are gaining the respect of their opponents, the media and most unbelievably, the fans. One man has more to do with that new found respect than anybody and it’s GM Martin Mayhew.
Mayhew inherited the NFL equivalent of a talent graveyard when he became the Lions’ GM midway through the 2008 0-16 season. His 2009 offseason had high points, notably his 2009 draft class and his swindling of Dallas Owner/GM Jerry Jones, but many of his free agent moves were short term stopgaps rather than key building blocks. The Lions went 2-14 in 2009 and Mayhew had grown his pool of talent by a handful of players.
Looking at the 2010 offseason, Mayhew was the most aggressive GM in a very uncertain free agent climate. The Lions landed a pair of top shelf freee agents, traded low draft picks for starting caliber players, and had another high impact draft. Here is a list of the major moves the Lions made and I will stack it up against any other GM’s performance in the 2010 offseason, at least through five weeks.
WR Nate Burleson free agent: The Lions may have overpaid for Burleson, but his addition is akin to adding two players for the price of one. Burleson is one of the best number two receivers in the league and his presence opens up room for the Lions biggest playmaker, Calvin Johnson.
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch free agent: Another player who many think was overpaid, but I challenge you to name a player that has had a bigger impact on his position group in the NFL. KVB’s legendary work ethic and hustle has turned the Lions defensive front into a top five unit in the NFL.
Corey Williams and a 2010 7th round pick for a 2010 5th round pick: Mayhew should practically win the award for this move by itself. Corey Williams is playing at a Pro Bowl level through five weeks with17 tackles, a sack, three passes defensed, an interception and a fumble forced. All of that production for a fifth round pick.
CB Chris Houston for a 2010 6th round pick and swap of 2010 5th round picks: Houston needed change of scenery and the Lions were more than willing to provide it. The big knock on Houston was he didn’t have the ball skills to be an effective corner, but he has intercepted three passes in five games (one was nullified by an offsides penalty and one was nullified by a bogus defensive holding.) Houston has been extremely strong in run support and looks like he’ll be a solid contributor for years to come.
QB Shaun Hill for a 2011 7th Round Pick: This is another move that could win the award for Mayhew on its own. Hill is playing at a high level and he is a top five backup quarterback. Shaun Hill could start for 10 teams in the NFL right now and be an upgrade, including his former team the 49ers. To acquire an insurance policy like Hill for a 7th rounder is masterful.
G Rob Sims for a 2010 5th round pick: As I type this these trades look like the one-sided affairs usually reserved for Madden 2011. Rob Sims graded out as the eighth best guard in the NFL last season. The Lions acquired him for a 5th round pick and he’s performed well enough to earn a four year extension last week. Great move.
TE Tony Scheffler for LB Ernie Sims (three team trade): Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew are the most dangerous tight end duo in the NFL right now. Scheffler is tied for fifth in the NFL in receptions for a tight end and he and Pettigrew have a combined 50 catches for 487 yards and two touchdowns. They also have two 20+ yard catches each and combined for 23 first downs.
LB Isaiah Ekejiuba claimed on waivers: Ekejiuba isn’t a highlight reel player, but he is a special teams demon and made a crucial block on Stefan Logan’s 105 yard kick return last week.
KR Stefan Logan claimed on waivers: Logan gives the Lions an electric return man that they have been lacking since 2004 when Eddie Drummond went to the Pro Bowl.
CB Alphonso Smith for TE Dan Gronkowski: Alphonso Smith was drafted in the second round by Denver last year, after they used a 2010 first rounder to trade up for him. Denver’s super awesome brain trust decided to give up on him after one season. The Lions sent 2009 7th round pick Dan Gronkowski to Denver for Smith right before final cuts. Smith has earned a starting spot over Jonathan Wade, he’s recovered a fumble, is tied for 2nd in the NFL with three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. He also earns bonus points for the “Carlton Dance” endzone celebration.
DT Ndamukong Suh drafted 2nd overall: Defensive tackles are a risky proposition at the top of the draft but Mayhew and the Lions’ coaches saw a can’t miss prospect. Suh has 18 tackles, two passes defensed, one interception and leads the NFL in sacks for defensive tackles with three. He is the front runner for the 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
RB Jahvid Best drafted 30th overall after a trade with the Vikings: Not only did the Vikings make a huge mistake by making the trade with the Lions allowing them to draft Best, they made an ever bigger mistake passing him up for themselves. The Vikings decided that Toby Gerhardt was a better change of pace from Adrian Peterson than Jahvid Best. Best leads all rookies with five touchdowns and is averaging almost 100 yards from scrimmage a game. Best is also the front runner for the 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after winning Offensive Rookie of the Month two weeks ago.
To recap, Lions’ GM Martin Mayhew drafted the two leaders for Offensive andDefensive ROTY honors, traded two 5th roundpicks, one 6th round pick, a 7th round pick, a backup TE drafted with a 7th round pick anda failed first round linebacker for five starters and one of the best backups in the league. His two main free agent signings have paid huge dividends and he helped fortify a lagging special teams unit with two waiver claims. I think the only other GM that comes close to measuring up with Mayhew right now is Scott Pioli, but he made his mark in the draft. Mayhew utilized free agency, the draft, trades and waiver claims to assemble a strong core group of young players the Lions can build on.
It’s hard to evaluate the Lions’ progress while they are missing their franchise quarterback and play four of their first six games on the road. The Lions by all rights should be 2-3 instead of 1-4, but they have been in every game with an opportunity to win all but one in the end. For a team that was 0-16 two years ago, that’s major progress and the magic that Mayhew performed this offseason is responsible for the first signs of hope for the Detroit Lions in years.