This is the end of an era for Detroit Lions football. The Detroit Lions have fired General Manager, Martin Mayhew and Team President, Tom Lewand in the midst of an extremely disappointing 2015 season (1-7). Mayhew has been the GM and Lewand has been the President of the Lions since mid-way through the 2008 season.
New owner Martha “FiredStone” Ford with her black eyes of death and her son Bill Ford Jr. have made it clear they are sick of losing and don’t have the patience and loyalty deceased owner William Clay Ford possessed. This move will start a new era for Detroit with a new GM, new team president/cap guru/contract negotiator and new head coach (once Caldwell is fired after the season).
What the Hell Happened?
Mayhew was in a full rebuild from the Millen mess. Mayhew had a great draft class with Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Delmas, Levy and Sammie Lee Hill. Mayhew whiffed on Derrick Williams in Round 3. Calvin Johnson, Cliff Avril, Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola were good holdovers from the previous regime. Mayhew traded for Julian Peterson for Corey Redding and 5th round pick. Corey Redding was the highest paid DT in the league in the time. That is how bad Millen was and Mayhew had a talent mess and cap mess to fix.
However, no good free agent wanted to come to Detroit and Detroit had a ton of dead cap space from the 2008 blood-letting. Detroit was limited to sign Anthony Henry and Patrick Buchanan at CB and re-signing Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman to five year deals were the “biggest” moves they could make. Mayhew added talent in the draft and an old Peterson. However, 2-14 was the best Detroit could do following the 0-16 season.
Mayhew built on a strong 2009 draft with a decent 2010 draft. Ndamakung Suh was a slam dunk pick with the second pick of the draft. If you looked at the Lions RBs from 1999-2009, you understand why Mayhew took the risk of Jahvid Best with his 2nd round pick. Best was a playmaker and home run threat. Turf toe and poor run blocking hurt his rookie season. Best was a huge playmaker in the 2011 season and big reason the Lions started 5-0. Best’s 100 all-purpose yards against the Bucs, a big 65 yard pass in the comeback against the Vikings and a huge game against the Bears were great flashes that the Lions wouldn’t get to see again. The Lions badly needed playmakers and the Best risk is justified.
The Lions couldn’t decide if they wanted a CB or safety and took Amari Spievey in Round 3. Spievey was decent in 2010 and 2011 but struggled in 2012 before a concussion ended his season. Spievey wouldn’t make it the team in 2013 as the Lions added Glover Quin and retained Louis Delmas in free agency. Jason Fox was a poor choice in the 4th round but injury (knee) derailed his development his first two seasons. Fox got his chance in 2013 but failed and was replaced by Hilliard and eventually LaAdrian Waddle.
Detroit’s 2010 draft and rebound in 2011 is due to great trades made by Mayhew. Mayhew traded a 5th round pick for Rob Sims, a 5th round pick for Corey Williams, a future 7th for backup QB Shaun Hill and a 6th and future 7th rounder for Chris Houston (who played well from 2010-2012 for Detroit). Mayhew doesn’t get enough credit for these moves during 2011. Detroit also took Willie Young in the 7th round of this draft that turned into a decent defensive end.
Mayhew added talent again but Stafford gets hurt in the first half of the first week of the season. The Lions start 2-10 but rebound with 4 wins to end the season. 6-10 and showing improvement in year 2 but the Lions still had work to do to add to the secondary and LB crew.
Mayhew had done it. He built a playoff team with a 10-6 record. This season was marred with the lockout but Mayhew added Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant, and Eric Wright in free agency and re-signed Chris Houston to a cheap 2 year 6 million dollar deal. Mayhew had to restructure Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford to make these moves. The restructures had to be done to add that crucial talent needed for the playoff team.
The 2011 draft was all about risks. Nick Fairley was a character risk but talented. Fairley had some solid years with Detroit in 2012 and 2013 and a great first half of 2014. The problem for Fairley was everyone wanted him to be just as good as Suh. Fairley’s flashes were great but also frustrating when he didn’t put it altogether. Mayhew properly didn’t give him the 5th year option and he had a great 2014 before injury. The price for that was losing him during the 2015 season.
Titus Young was a bigger character risk in 2011. He had a very good season for a rookie 3rd option. He made big plays that helped Detroit made the playoffs. In 2012, Titus Young went bat shit crazy. You may be able to see he is a diva with an attitude problem. Many young college players have this issue. There was no way to tell he would be an insane person.
Mikel LeShoure was added because Detroit needed a power back. Late Round 2 was the proper time to take him. Detroit traded their 3rd and 4th round pick to move up to get him. Day 3 of training camp he tears his ACL and is never the same again. The emergence of Joique Bell makes him expendable.
When you go 10-6, you want to keep that team around as much as possible. The 2012 cap was tight and Detroit had many of their own playoff players hitting the free agent market. Jeff Backus, Cliff Avril, Shaun Hill, Sammie Lee Hill (restricted), Stephen Tulloch, Eric Wright and DeAndre Levy (restricted). Detroit was able to retain all of them but Eric Wright like LKP predicted in the ESPN days. Eric Wright got a huge contract with Tampa Bay and was terrible. Mayhew made the right moves and Backus, Tulloch, Shaun Hill, DeAndre Levy played well. Cliff Avril decided to have the worst year of his career the year the Lions franchised him. Avril was good in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. 2012 he didn’t earn the franchise money. Detroit restructured Suh and Stafford to give Avril franchise money and re-sign these free agents.
Calvin Johnson got a huge extension which actually lowered his cap number and remained low for three seasons (2012-2014). This was well earned but the league never followed this deal for any other WR.
Jim Schwartz was extended prior to the 2012 season. This makes sense after making the playoffs in 2011 and the fact he would have been a lame duck in 2012 due to his four year contract. But of course, this bites Detroit in the ass. Mayhew wanted to fire Schwartz after this season but it is rumored Bill Ford Jr. stepped in because it was so early in the contract.
The 2012 draft Mayhew made a good pick with Riley Reiff in Round 1. Backus was old and Gosder Cherilus was in a contract year. Reiff played well in 2012-2014. Apparently in 2015, Reiff forgot how to play. Reiff was always next to a veteran left guard with a veteran center in 2012-2014. Raiola and Sims were old and couldn’t run block but they may have helped Reiff in his assignments. Reiff better figure things out the rest of this season because a new GM may rescind his 5th year option.
Ryan Broyles was coming off an ACL injury. Nate Burleson was old with a free agent rising contract. One ACL injury for Broyles doesn’t indicate he will tear his other ACL the next year and then tear his Achilles the following. Broyles was super productive in college and a good route runner with good hands. Broyles was slowed by injuries and didn’t get a shot on the active roster in 2014 due to his injuries and the special teams play of Jeremy Ross (in 2013). Bill Bentley was the Lions 3rd round pick. Bentley had a career filled with injuries (2012 and 2014) but a decent 2013 season. With Bentley’s injuries, Mayhew was left to rely on one year contracts for nickel corners (Jacob Lacey, Danny Gorrer, and Josh Wilson). Ronnel Lewis was a big whiff in Round 4 but Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis were nice late round LB additions in Round 5 and 7.
Unfortunately for Mayhew, Best couldn’t play even though there was hope in training camp. Best participated in OTAs in 2012 which is ignored. Plus there wasn’t much free agent talent out there in free agency at RB in 2012. LeShoure was an unknown after the Achilles injury but Detroit was going to give him his shot. Kyle Vandenbosch was a decent player the previous two years (2010-2011) but got old real quickly in 2012. Cliff Avril was a good player the previous two years (2010-2011) and was worth franchising. But Avril’s worst year of his veteran career was in 2012. Stephen Peterman was a decent player in 2011 under a line that protected Stafford well (only 24% pressure). Peterman had major regression in 2012. Titus Young went insane. Ryan Broyles and Nate Burleson were injured midway through the season. Pettigrew after back to back 750 yard seasons has a poor year with 2 crucial fumbles and 500 inefficient yards in 12 games. Detroit couldn’t hold 15 4th Quarter leads in the season.
Disaster struck in 2012 and the Lions went 4-12. The Lions turned the ball over 34 times with 17 Stafford interceptions and 16 fumbles. They rebounded to 4-4 after a 1-3 start. Two of those losses in the 1-3 start were Detroit allowing 2 special team TDs in one game in back to back weeks (Titans/Vikings). However with injuries, Young’s insanity, turnovers (some of the fluke variety) and defensive issues they went 0-8 in the second half of the season.
The Lions kept the 2011 playoff team together during 2012 because Detroit was limited to re-signing their own players from their playoff roster. 2013 was a different story after a 4-12 2012 season. Detroit was active in free agency signing Reggie Bush, Jason Jones (who got hurt in Week 3) and Glover Quin (who had an ankle injury that he played through since Week 4).
Detroit continued to re-sign their own giving Chris Houston a big deal and oft injured Louis Delmas a back loaded 2 year deal with injury incentives. Detroit was very active and improved their team.
Houston was a good player in 2010-2012 for Detroit. Of course, Houston gets a hamstring and foot injury in 2013 and has a terrible season after a big deal (see DeAndre Levy injury). Detroit makes him a June 1st cut during the 2014 offseason. Houston missed all of 2014 due to the foot injury and never played another snap again. A Detroit player earns a decent contract but then gets hurt and regresses.
Delmas was oft injured in 2011 and 2012. However, Delmas was able to play every snap in 2013. Of course Delmas would play with an injury incentive able to bloat his contract in 2014. The Lions cut Delmas due to this reason before the 2014 season and Delmas moves on to Miami. Delmas got hurt in 2014 and 2015 on one year deals with Miami. It was the right call to sign him and the right call to cut him. Delmas was healthy in college and 2009/2010 for Detroit. Delmas was injured in late 2011 after 10 starts and injured his other knee in 2012.
Mayhew’s 2013 were incredible adding Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay, Larry Warford, Sam Martin and Theo Riddick. 4th rounder Larry Webster appears to be the lone whiff.
The 2013 season was a tale of two seasons. The Lions and Stafford looked great (29 TDs, good on 3rd down) with a 6-3 start. The defense showed good flashes (but gave up some big plays Houston/Delmas) and the offense was explosive.
The Lions didn’t finish the season well and it cost Schwartz his job. Detroit again had 33 turnovers with many of them in the last 7 games. Detroit again had weapon injuries with Burleson (pizza) and Broyles (Achilles) getting hurt. Calvin was playing hurt and missed two games in 2013. Detroit did not have Golden Tate yet to deal with these losses and relied on Kris Durham and Brandon Pettigrew (somehow slower). The Lions wilted despite going 4-2 in the division. Both division losses were without Calvin Johnson on the road. 7-9 was not good enough to win the division.
Mayhew had looked like he had finally built a winner in 2014. He hired Jim Caldwell to fix the discipline and turnover issues. Both were fixed in 2014 with only 20 turnovers by Detroit and less discipline issues both on and off the field. The Lions were a strong 11-5 and made the playoffs for the second time in the Mayhew era. The defense was strong (3rd best in league) and the offense made enough plays to win 11 games while avoiding turnovers (only 20 in 16 games).
Mayhew adding Golden Tate and James Ihedgibo looked like great moves. Mayhew’s draft was questioned adding Eric Ebron, Kyle Van Noy and Travis Swanson and Nevin Lawson. All three were picked around where they were ranked. Ebron has shown improvement in year 2 despite a poor rookie year which is expected for TEs but not top 10 picks. Van Noy got injured his rookie year and missed the first 8 games of the season. His hernia injured hindered his development from a 3-4 backer to a 4-3 scheme. Van Noy will have to turn things around in 2016. Travis Swanson was the replacement for Dominic Raiola. This has failed as Swanson is basically Raiola without the knowledge to call the protections properly. Lawson was injured his rookie with a gruesome foot injury. He is a backup behind Josh Wilson and rookie Quandre Diggs currently. Lawson or Diggs better improve and take the nickel job in 2016.
Detroit went 11-5 but had offensive struggles. The staff blamed the issues on a first year offense which is logical. Detroit was screwed in the playoff game.
The Lions had the cap room for Suh in 2015 and beyond. They offered him 17 million per season. However, they offered him this deal way too late in the process after tabling negotiations before the 2014 season. The Suh negotiation fiasco is a big reason Lewand is gone. Lewand also had a DUI incident in 2011.
Mayhew loves Matt Stafford and went as far as to calm him a QB with hall of fame potential recently. Mayhew clearly made the right choice in the 2009 to draft him over Mark Sanchez, Aaron Curry and Jason Smith. Stafford has shown he can produce when surrounded properly. The problem for Stafford has been his support. When the offensive line protected him, the weapons were hurt or lacking (see 2012/2013). When the weapons were there (2014/2015), the offensive line and run game weren’t even NFL caliber.
Stafford can make better decisions and work on his pocket presence and accuracy but he does have the tools to win and produce in this league (2011, 2013 and 2014 prove this). It will be interesting to see if the new GM decides to keep Stafford or move on with a rookie in 2016 and beyond.
Expectations were extremely high for the 2015 season but the Lions failed. Players got old and didn’t recover from injuries. Suh and Fairley bolted in free agency and left a void on the Lions defense. Haloti Ngata (acquired for a 4th/5th rounder) was not as good as advertised and DeAndre Levy got hurt. Tyrunn Walker got hurt in Week 4 and did not replace Nick Fairley either.
The Lions added Laken Tomlinson to replace Rob Sims after trading down from pick 23 to pick 28. Lions traded for Manny Ramirez to be the veteran and depth presence and a 5th round pick. Tomlinson has improved and Ramirez played well for an injured Warford early in the season. However the struggles of Reiff, Swanson, Waddle, Lucas and blitz pick up have been too much for Detroit.
Detroit drafted an explosive back to replace Reggie Bush with Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah is elusive and can find the hole but has fumble issues. He was the perfect replacement for Bush in this offense but comes with the same issues. His one fumble lost hasn’t killed the team but going forward the Lions staff and front office must watch this issue. Alex Carter was added in Round 3 to be the backup CB and replacement for Rashean Mathis. Carter was injured prior to training camp and missed the first half of the season. The Lions added Gabe Wright in Round 4 to replace Nick Fairley long term. Wright is slow in his development and Detroit needs production now. Detroit gave up a 3rd round pick for the extra 4th so Wright better develop in year 2 in 2016.
The Lions offense struggled more as losing Raiola and Sims apparently means they can’t pick up a blitz properly. The talented but young offensive line is struggling big time. Joique Bell has been hurt most of the year and Zach Zenner was injured the second he showed some promise as a power back. This left Abdullah with his fumble problems and small size behind a line that can’t give him holes and Theo Riddick who is more of a receiving back only.
The defense has major issues as Tulloch, Mathis and Ihedigbo can’t cover due to old age. Nickel back has major coverage issues and DeAndre Levy out greatly hurts the LB coverage. The pass rush is solid but doesn’t take over games as needed. Detroit must learn to cover even without pressure and build with Slay and Quin (the lone bright spots along with Ansah).
The Lions turnover woes reared their ugly head. The Lions turned the ball over only 23 times in 2011 and 20 times in 2014 for double digit win season. The 2012 and 2013 seasons had 34 and 33 turnovers, respectively leading to 4-12 and 7-9 records. The 2015 first half of the season was a worse version of the 2012 and 2013 seasons with 20 turnovers in 8 games. This puts Detroit on pace for a 40 turnover season. The Lions have 12 interceptions and 8 fumbles lost. I would blame Stafford for 6 of the 20 turnovers. The other 14 turnovers are 8 fumbles (each by a different player) and 6 interceptions (due to pressure, one Orlovsky interception and bad routes).
Offensive Line Issues
Mayhew is fired for failing to build an offensive line despite using two 1st round picks and two 3rd round picks on the offensive line. Riley Reiff and Larry Warford have played well in the past. I don’t know what happened to them. Reiff was always next to a vetern left guard and center but now played alongside inexperience. Warford injured his ankle in pre-season and re-injured the same ankle in Week 3. These regressions have cost Detroit.
Laken Tomlinson has shown improvement but center Travis Swanson has been terrible in his second year (first year starting at center). Right tackle is a mess with injured LaAdrian Waddle regressing after a torn ACL in late 2014. Cornelius Lucas looks lost in the backup role. The Lions have given up the 4th most sacks (22), the most QB hits (60) and 39% pressure overall. They struggle in run blocking with a 3.7 YPC mark in the run game (28th) in the league. If you use high picks on the offensive line and you fail, your job will be in jeopardy.
The Lions have made long time personnel man Sheldon White the interim GM. Detroit will be performing a national search and there are plenty of good candidates out there. Personally, I would love to steal Eliot Wolf from Green Bay or Nick Caserio from New England.
I would sum up the Mayhew era with this sentence.
The right choice at the time usually ended up being the wrong choice.
Get high first round picks to add talent. Sounds great, right? Wrong, you get cap issues due to the old CBA. The cap doesn’t rise enough in 2011-2013 and you are forced to restructure these contracts just so you can add talent.
Take a QB number 1 overall so you get a Peyton Manning or John Elway or chance at an Aaron Rodgers. Wrong, the year you pick 1st the choices are Stafford and Sanchez.
Give Calvin the long term contract he deserves in his prime. Sounds about right? Wrong, you pay him way too much compared to every other WR and are forced to backload the contract due to the old CBA contracts.
Re-sign your own players that are productive like Cliff Avril, DeAndre Levy, Joique Bell, Chris Houston and Louis Delmas. Wrong, they get injured or regress as soon as you give them the deal.
Re-sign a lame duck coach after he got you to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Wrong, he’ll lose control and not care about turnovers, penalties or giving up explosive plays.
Keep the playoff team together after 2011. Wrong, they get old quickly and regress.
Let Hanson retire. Wrong, you’ll have kicking troubles until you hire a drunk.
Rely on injured high draft pick guys to come back from injury. Wrong, they apparently never do for Detroit. Other teams sure, Detroit no chance. This applies to undrafted free agents(Waddle/Fauria) that show talent and overzealous celebrating linebackers (Tulloch).
The injured list includes Louis Delmas (knees), Best (head), LeShoure (achilles), Broyles (knees and achilles), Spievey (head), Fox (knees), Bentley (knee), Lawson (foot), Fairley (knee/foot), Van Noy(hernia) and Carter (knee). Eventually Levy got hurt when needed the most (hip) and Stafford (shoulder) and Pettigrew(ACL) both had injuries early in their careers. The 2013 class is unscathed and magically Mayhew’s best class.
Backload free agent deals due to the rising cap and draft players to replace them. Wrong, the players you draft to replace them will get hurt.
Ok let players leave in free agency after a playoff year so you don’t overpay. Wrong, you lose talent.
Trade for an all pro DT to replace an all pro DT? Wrong, your new DT will get hurt and age incredibly rapidly.
Sign the exact opposite coach in personality who has a known track record to limit turnovers. Wrong, he’ll be an emotionless drone who only temporarily can fix the turnovers (2014).
Everything Mayhew did was logical and seemed to be the right choice at the time given the circumstances. In hindsight, so many decisions failed (many injury related) and the Lions are left with another mess to clean up. Luckily, Mayhew left the team in good cap shape for 2016 and has 10 draft picks in 2016. The new GM has some good building blocks but a lot of work to do given the aging players in Detroit.