Over the past six months, I've watched the Lions front office increasingly scrutinized and ridiculed. Frustrated fans and media talking heads have suggested a change may be forthcoming. Even my POD brethren have begun calling for his head, and a writer for the NFL Network recently dubbed this a "make or break year" for Mayhew.
Honestly, I'm quite surprised by all of the heat that Mayhew is taking. Front office administrators and coaches are rightfully judged by wins and losses, but in this case it's a bit misleading to list their record over the past four years and call them failures.
Mayhew took over what the NFL network themselves recently anointed the worst team of all time. Of course they had losing seasons following that. But Mayhew made the right call on Stafford when many fans & pundits were calling for them to draft Smith or Curry. Both of those men have turned out to be busts. Suh & Fairley were the correct picks as well. Beyond the draft, Mayhew executed multiple trades that were clear wins for Detroit. Doesn't anyone remember the Roy Williams trade for the Cowboys #1 draft pick? He also stole Rob Sims from Seattle. Every deal he made over the first two years included extra picks and players that vastly improved the depth of this team. The term "Mayhewing" even took off on POD & other Lions blogs as a way to refer to one GM skewering another on a trade. "In Mayhew We Trust" was another commonly written phrase. The quick ascent from 0-16 to the playoffs represented a remarkable job of team construction and management.
Now so many of the same fans that recently celebrated Mayhew & Schwartz are calling for their heads to roll. I understand that the team took a step back last year. I also acknowledge that several 2nd and 3rd round picks have not worked out. But I actually think it's a bit unreasonable to expect otherwise. The playoff year was the result of multiple, improbable comebacks and probably was a bit of an over-achievement. A step back year for a team on such a rapid ascension is quite common. Fans think the team should just get better every year, but it often doesn't work that way. Injuries, free agency, tough schedules, the terms of the old CBA, bad luck and failed risks can and did all contribute to last season's mess. It's easy for us now to heckle Mayhew for taking a chance on Titus Young and Jahvid Best. But those are the types of risks that can make a good team great if they pan out. We fans also then criticize Mayhew for passing on risks such as Janoris Jenkins. It's easy to be critical with the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes injury and character risks pay off. Sometimes they don't. Drafting is an inexact science, and that inconvenient truth is proven again and again across the league every year.
This front office and coaching staff deserve more time to build a perennial contender. They have demonstrated a clear vision for the identity of this Lions team and are working on getting the right players to fit that vision. I expect they will continue to have some successes and some failures. But I also expect the front office to learn from some of their mistakes and the team to continue to improve. Scrapping the GM and coach at every hiccup in a complete team rebuild is not a recipe for success. Just ask any Browns fan.
Thus I would not label this a "make or break" year for Mayhew & Schwartz. I suspect the Ford family will rightfully give them another 2-3 years before such a crossroads is reached. Afterall, this is the same ownership that granted Matt Millen 8 years at the helm before the winless season forced their hand. A repeat of such blind faith and patience with this administration would be a mistake. But a quick hook and premature rebuild would similarly set the organization back for years to come.
It's tough to preach patience to Lions fans. We've had so little of the success that we desperately crave. But I have witnessed enough quality decisions and extenuating circumstances to convince me that Mayhew is still the right man to build this roster. In the very least, he deserves more of a chance to finish what he skillfully started. This is arguably the most talented Lions roster I have seen in my 35 years of watching them, and I have more hope now than at any other time in my life. That hope stems from the good moves that Mayhew has made. I'm not so eager to toss that aside.
In Mayhew, I still trust.