every dog has his day

>> 7.08.2009

Unlike when a new executive is brought in from another team, when Martin Mayhew was promoted to GM, he was already intimately familiar with his roster: a group of 53 players, plus a host of players on IR, plus practice-squadders, that had completed the NFL’s only 0-16 season just the day before.  He knew the strengths and weaknesses of all of them; he’d presumably argued either for or against the acquisition of almost every one.  Therefore, when he was handed that roster and told to make a winning football team, he knew he had a long, hard road in front of him.

First, of course, he had to establish a long-term vision for the kind of team they want to build—both with his front officemate, President Tom Lewand, and then his head coach, Jim Schwartz.  Then, he could go to work: subtracting players who didn’t fit that vision, and adding players who did.  Unfortunately, you can’t turn over an entire roster in one offseason; it’s just not possible.  Moreover, even between the draft and free agency, all of the players needed to fill the long-term vision almost certainly won’t be available the year you establish that vision.  That means that when Martin Mayhew went roster-building, he had to continually keep in mind that the point wasn’t to do whatever it took to maximize the Lions’ win total in 2009—it was to actually build the roster.

There’s been a bit of handwringing over how most of these changes have left the Lions--theoretically a youthful team starting from the ground up--actually quite old.  I’ve commented before that between Grady Jackson, (possibly) Kevin Carter, Larry Foote, Julian Peterson, Anthony Henry, and Philip Buchanon, the Lions’ defense would be the best in the league if it was 2004 now.   However, this is where you have to keep in mind the above.  The Lions were acquiring the kinds of players they need to win, because they couldn't possibly acquire all the specifc players they need to win in one spring.  However, pay close attention, because from here on out, the rookies that the Lions draft, and the young veterans they sign to long contracts, will fill those same roles.  DeAndre Levy could become quickly become young Larry Foote.  Sammie Lee Hill could develop into young Grady Jackson.  Louis Delmas could quickly become young Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu—and believe me, if Troy Polamalu had been past his prime and available as an affordable free agent, the Lions would have done everything they could to get him in here.

The key here is remembering that the older stopgaps are just that—stopgaps.  They might work out beautifully, giving the Lions a couple of very productive years, like Dan Wilkinson did earlier this decade.  They might already be out of gas, and barely see the field.  The beautiful part is that none of these “graybeards” have been signed to extensive deals.  Beyond Julian Peterson and Philip Buchanon—both on the right side of 32—the veteran acquisitions are all on one- or two-year deals.  Mayhew and the Lions could easily wash their hands of any of them.

As oft as Matt Millen is excoriated for his awful drafting, I think that has more to do with the visibility that comes with being in the top ten every year—the Eagles have been just as prolific and putrid as the Lions in taking first-round wideouts.  I really think it’s his free agent signings that sunk the team.  Over and over again, he’d make a huge splash by giving all the money in the world to the best available guy who played the position he wanted to address.  As one example, he backed up the Brinks truck for Dre’ Bly—an undersized speed-and-coverage cornerback—while his defensive coordinator was Kurt Schottenheimer, who preferred very physical press coverage.  Why?  The Lions were desperate for cornerback help, and Bly was the best one available.  To Millen, it didn’t matter that Bly didn’t fit the vision, it didn’t matter that Bly’s mouth was even bigger than his sizable talent, and it didn’t matter that the enormous money would chain the Lions to Bly for the next several years--he just needed to fill that hole.

Come next spring, the veterans that didn’t work out—or were eclipsed by younger players—will be let go, and another big infusion of players who fit the vision will be brought in.  This time next season, I really believe that we will see a Detroit Lions roster that is very young, very talented, and very close to the kind of team that Mayhew, Lewand, and Schwartz have meant to build.

As for now . . . well, let these old dogs have their day.  We might be surprised.

15 comments:

Jeff,  July 8, 2009 at 11:58 AM  

Great article, I'm interested to see how it goes this year...

Ty July 8, 2009 at 12:02 PM  

Jeff--

Thanks! I really appreciate it.

This has been the most infuriating bit, the total lack of visibility. We have absolutely no idea what this team is going to look like--the offense will be different, the defense will be very different, a host of starters have been replaced, and the twos and threes are completely different.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  July 8, 2009 at 1:27 PM  

Ty,

I was just linked to your blog from Mlive and I have just burned an hour scanning through your old blogs. As a Lions fan living in Dayton, Ohio, the internet is an incredibly invaluable tool for me to stay connected. Your blog just made my "Favorites" list. Keep up the great writing.

Jamie

Ty July 8, 2009 at 5:08 PM  

Jamie--

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Comments like yours are what keep me going. I really appreciate the kind words!

Watching my various traffic widgets and gewgaws, there are passionate Lions fans just about everywhere, and my aim is to provide a big blue bonfire where we can all shed our thick coats, pop open metaphorical (and literal) beers, and just talk about like it's not shameful to do so. Welcome, Jaime, and keep the faith.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 8, 2009 at 5:08 PM  

Ah, crap, I misspelled your name the second time there. Welcome, Jamie.

Peace
Ty

DetFan1979 July 8, 2009 at 5:45 PM  

Great Piece Ty! You've been on a real roll!

DetFan1979

Anonymous,  July 8, 2009 at 7:45 PM  

Excellent writing Ty

-Sprawl

Anonymous,  July 8, 2009 at 9:00 PM  

Ty

Nice read! I see your blog is now getting a link from mLive. Congrats!

CanadianFan from The Red Zone

Pacer July 9, 2009 at 1:30 AM  

HI Ty-while your article is about what Mayhew and company are doing and for the most part have done to date, I thought it would be a good idea to shine some light on who is "doing the doing". On M-Live last fall I got into pretty well with Fetish and others when Mayhew was announced as the iterim GM. I said at the time that Mayhew was a good choice as the permanent GM and therefore was happy to see him get that post. Here is an article posted by a Redskins beat reporter of the day about Mayhew. I will post another one tomorrow re: Bill Polian and his thoughts on Mayhew. I am not sure whether many Lions fans have seen the article or "surfed" to find out who and what Mayhew is and is about. Enjoy. Here is the link. Can't for whatever the reason is copy and paste to your site.

http//blogs.chron.com/sportsjustice/archives/2009/01/once_upon_a_tim_.html.

If the link does not work Google- Washington Redskins Beat Reporters Martin Mayhew-should be the 6th link entitled Sports Justice.

Ty July 9, 2009 at 9:14 AM  

DF79--

Thanks, man! I really appreciate it. You've been cranking out really good stuff, too . . . and, man, it's hard out there for football bloggers. No info at all.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 9, 2009 at 9:19 AM  

Sprawl--

Thank you. The writing is something I'm really working on. My "first takes" are usually pretty good, but I'm much prouder of the stuff I write when I take my time--and judging from the comments, you guys like reading that stuff better, too! I'm always working to improve.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 9, 2009 at 9:23 AM  

Hey CanadianFan! Nice to see you. Thanks for the congrats; it's really nice of Phil Zaroo to link to my blog along with, you know, real websites, heh.

My traffic widgets actually tell me that I have a TON of Canadian readers, which I think is awesome. I'm picturing riots in Ontario when the Lions play the Bills in the Super Bowl . . . sigh.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 9, 2009 at 9:41 AM  

Pacer--

Wow, what a great find! That is an outstanding article. As I've said before--in fact, it's hardly a secret anymore--but I secretly wear Martin Mayhew Underoos. He seems like an great, great guy, and his moves so far have been incredibly savvy. Reviewing all the Millen-era draft boards, and finding out that the scouts' work was great, but not listened to by Millen? That's smart. Getting Shack Harris, an experienced executive, to help take pressure off of him? Also smart. Signing older, cheaper vets to bolster the starting lineup, then drafting for ability instead of need? Smart smart smart smart smart.

I think the Lions are in great hands right now, and I am not afraid to say it.

Peace
Ty

Square,  July 9, 2009 at 10:23 AM  

"I secretly wear Martin Mayhew Underoos". Hehe, I'd have a new sig if this was posted on the huddle. I'll leave it alone since this is your blog though. Good work Ty.

Ty July 10, 2009 at 11:06 PM  

Square--

Heh, I appreciate you sparing me the grief! Thanks for the props, man--I appreciate it.

Peace
Ty

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