It’s been about four and a half years since the Detroit Lions decided to move on from general manager Martin Mayhew. Now the former Lions GM is preparing for the Super Bowl as the vice president of player personnel for the San Francisco 49ers.
Now in his third year with the 49ers, Mayhew took some time to reflect on his front office NFL career in a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press.
Mayhew took over as Lions general manager after team infamously went 0-16 in 2008. Promoted from within the organization, Mayhew took a winless team to the playoffs in three years. He took advantage of three top-five picks, turning them into Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah. He got this team the closest it has been to their first playoff win in two decades against the Cowboys, but when the team started 1-7 the following year, he was gone.
Fairly or unfairly, Mayhew’s legacy in Detroit will likely always be defined by his second-to-last draft as Lions GM. With the 10th pick in the 2014 draft, Mayhew selected tight end Eric Ebron over defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Five years later, he is still kicking himself about that one.
“I wish I would have taken Aaron Donald,” Mayhew told the Detroit Free Press. “That’s no knock on Ebron. I wish I would have taken him. It’s not a decision that’s made in a vacuum. We talked about a lot of different scenarios, different situations. Man, I wish I had taken him.”
Ebron would only spend four years in Detroit, catching 186 passes for 2,070 yards and just 11 touchdowns. Donald has made the Pro Bowl every year of his career, was named first-team All Pro in five of six seasons, and is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Mayhew believes if he hadn’t made the mistake of passing on Donald, the Lions would have won that playoff game in Dallas.
“The way people talk about Aaron Donald, maybe we were one pick away,” Mayhew said. “If we’d have had him, we’d probably beat Dallas in the playoff game.”
And if the Lions would have beaten Dallas that fateful afternoon, who knows what happens next? Maybe Detroit makes a deep playoff run in 2014. Maybe Suh decides to stick around Detroit longer. Maybe the Lions don’t start 2015 1-7 and Martin Mayhew sticks around longer.
Of course, there are so many more factors to consider about Mayhew’s legacy in Detroit. His second-round draft history isn’t too pretty. He often got the Lions into salary cap trouble by pushing more and more money into future salary caps.
But it’s hard not to wonder how different everything would have looked had Mayhew simply gone with Donald back in 2014.