Recently I was able to interview embattled Detroit GM Martin Mayhew. Here’s what he had to say.
Me: Thanks for meeting with me.
Martin: Always happy to talk with Lions fans and explain some of our baffling decisions.
Me: Good hire with Jim Caldwell.
Martin: Thanks, Tony Dungy recommended him highly.
Me: You didn’t vet him yourself?
Martin: Well, there’s only so much you can learn from a person’s track record when they got to coach Peyton Manning.
Me: You could learn that when he wasn’t coaching Manning his team earned the No. 1 overall pick.
Martin: Yeah, but that team Bill Polian put together wasn’t much without Peyton. Hardly his fault.
Me: Kind of like your team without Megatron.
Me: Calvin Johnson.
Martin: I know who you’re referring to.
Me: Oh, I thought the other part was obvious. You were humiliated in the two games last year where he didn’t play.
Martin: One of those games was close.
Me: It was against the Vikings.
Martin: Any given Sunday.
Me: Without Adrian Peterson.
Martin: There’s no such thing as an easy NFL game.
Me: A day before they fired everybody.
Martin: I know who the Vikings are.
Me: Sorry, didn’t mean to digress. Who drafted Megatron by the way?
Martin: We did.
Me: You mean Matt Millen.
Martin: It was a group decision. Millen wanted Jamarcus but he was already gone.
Me: That’s a good response. I’d go with that next year when you’re interviewing with the Dolphins. Okay, so I read a piece on MLive recently where you say Matthew Stafford was the problem.
Martin: Not exactly. Just that he needs to be better.
Me: You said, and I quote, “There has to be some work done.” I take it you’re not a Harry Truman fan.
Martin: We always want to get better. There’s always more work to do.
Me: And then you say, “But it’s not all on Matthew. There are a lot of moving pieces in that. I’ve been in contact with him several times since the end of the season and he seems pretty confident to me.” As a Lions fan, it’s a relief to know it’s not all on our franchise quarterback who threw for 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns at the age of 23.
Martin: But he’s regressed for two consecutive seasons.
Me (rattling my notes): According to Pro Football Focus, his accuracy percentage in 2011 was 74.7%, in 2012 it was 70.5% and this past year 72.1%. Looks like he dipped a little there in 2012 but bounced back this season.
Martin: But he was better in 2011.
Me: Okay, but those accuracy numbers are pretty much in line with Tom Brady’s. And since Stafford’s accuracy numbers are similar to a guy who takes his team deep into the playoffs every year, it seems fair to conclude that decision-making is at least as important as accuracy.
Martin: We think decision-making is important. Did you know Matthew scored a 38 on the Wonderlic, one point better than Andrew Luck?
Me: I did. He’s a pretty sharp guy despite the frat boy vibe. But being smart doesn’t mean he makes good in-game decisions. For example, would you say one statistical proxy for decision-making would be the ability to make quick reads and get the ball out on time?
Martin: Assuming the reads are correct.
Me: What if I told you Stafford averaged 2.59 seconds to attempt in 2011 and had a quarterback rating of 93.9 on passes thrown in under 2.5 seconds. This past year, he averaged 2.51 seconds to attempt and posted a 93.1 rating on those same kinds of passes.
Martin: I don’t follow.
Me: Well, passer rating on passes thrown in under 2.5 seconds has a much higher correlation with quarterback success than other types of passes. I’m saying the numbers suggest Stafford is actually getting even faster at reading the defense and that his numbers on the most meaningful subset of passes are identical to what they were two years ago.
Martin: Then why was he so much worse overall?
Me: Before we get to that, I want to ask you a little about roster construction. In 2010, you signed Nate Burleson to a 5-year, $25 million dollar contract.
Martin: We love Nate. Excellent leader. Bad driver (chuckles), but really good in the locker room.
Me: So you feel like the leadership was worth $5 million a year.
Martin: And he’s a good player.
Me: Over the previous five years before you signed him, he’d averaged 506 yards and 3.8 touchdowns when healthy and also missed a year due to injury.
Martin: But his best previous season was with Scott Linehan.
Me: He was also 29 years old and weighed less than 200 pounds.
Martin: We comply with all federal hiring guidelines on age and weight discrimination. Plus, we wanted to make sure there was someone available to line up opposite Megatron. We do run a pass-happy offense, you know. That requires receivers.
Me: And in your pursuit of receivers, you used your second round pick in the 2011 Draft on Titus Young.
Martin: Regrettable. But that wasn’t a strong receiver draft.
Me: With Torrey Smith on the board.
Me: What about it?
Martin: Is 50-50.
Me: You mean 20-20.
Martin (with a little bit of a dodgy look): But it’s not really, with Lasik, is it? More like 20-15, maybe 20-10. . .
Me: Torrey broke out at the age of 20 by recording 37% of his team’s receiving offense. Titus never represented more than 27% of his team’s receiving offense.
Martin: This is that market share concept Brian is always bugging me about?
Martin: Not exactly in our department. We let him hang out in the basement playing with his pocket calculator. We don’t let him come up and watch film. You know he was in the Broncos draft room when they picked Tim Tebow – can you imagine?!! – although he swears that was because Josh McDaniels was just madly, irrationally in love with Tim. It sounded more than platonic.
Me: Tony Dungy would not have approved.
Martin: Josh was not on our short list, no.
Me: So you’re not on board with receiving market share as a predictor?
Martin: We place a little more emphasis on raw numbers. Nobody cares if you’ve got a lot of your team’s offense if your team’s offense is bad. I mean, carry your team. That’s what a college star is supposed to do.
Me: Hard to argue with that.
Martin: Is it? We can’t get Brian to shut up.
Me: Skimming over Mr. Young’s mental health problems versus Mr. Smith’s sterling character, let’s move on to Ryan Broyles.
Martin: We love Ryan. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be our Wes Welker.
Me: Welker was an undrafted rookie free agent.
Martin: Not sure I follow.
Me: Well, wouldn’t it make sense to try to find a short, slow guy in the UDFA pool instead of drafting a short, slow guy in the 2nd round?
Martin: That’s backwards-looking. If we knew then what we know now. . .
Me: Which is what?
Martin: That he would get injured.
Me: He was injured at the time.
Martin: Exactly. He seemed less likely to be injured in his rookie training camp – like Mikel Leshoure – since he wasn’t going to be able to participate in his rookie training camp.
Me: Because he was already injured.
Me: Okay, so you took him instead of Rueben Randle.
Martin: We really wanted Alshon Jeffery, but he went nine picks earlier.
Me: You passed on Jeffery for Riley Reiff.
Martin: You’ve got to build in the trenches.
Me: The Riley Reiff who couldn’t crack the lineup as a rookie and this past year ranked No. 35 among offensive tackles by PFF. The Riley Reiff who probably wouldn’t have graded out so well if your franchise quarterback wasn’t so good at getting rid of the ball quickly.
Martin: Is Matty good at that? You provided the times earlier but no context.
Me: Stafford ranked as sixth fastest, but for most of the season he trailed only Peyton Manning.
Martin: And see that’s the thing. We want him to play like Peyton.
Martin: Calvin is better than all of those guys.
Martin: Well, maybe not combined. They do triple team him, you know.
Me: Okay, so you wanted Jeffery but he was gone. You then settled for Broyles instead of Rueben Randle.
Martin: Broyles is the all-time NCAA receptions leader. Randle never even broke 1000 yards.
Me: So it didn’t concern you that in his final two seasons – speaking only of games in which he played, mind you – Broyles failed to represent more than 35% of his team’s receiving offense. Meanwhile, Randle emerged to the tune of 40%.
Martin: It sounds like you want me to give Randle a gold star and downgrade Broyles simply because LSU couldn’t pass the ball. Seems like fuzzy math.
Me: Let me ask you this. It didn’t give you pause that Randle was 20 pounds heavier, five inches taller, three years younger, and ran two-hundredths faster at the Combine?
Martin: Broyles was hurt! Plus, we wanted a little guy. We already had our tall receiver.
Me: If you wanted a little guy, why not T.Y. Hilton?
Me: Hilton broke out as a college freshman and recorded more than 30% of his team’s receiving offense for four consecutive seasons. He then ran a blistering 4.37 at the Combine.
Martin: You didn’t know!
Me: I’m sorry?
Martin: I checked out your 2012 Draft rankings in preparation for this interview and Hilton wasn’t even on the list!
Me: That’s very flattering, Mr. Mayhew. Did you prepare more for our talk than you did for the 2013 Draft?
Martin: We nailed the 2013 draft!
Me: You finished 7-9 despite the rest of the division playing without a quarterback and in the process you wasted another prime year of arguably the best wide receiver in NFL history.
Martin: Ah, I see what you’re doing. What’s that you stats guys always say? Narrative! Correlation without causation!
Me: I liked the Ezekial Ansah pick.
Martin: Thank you.
Me: What happened in the second round?
Martin: We took Darius Slay.
Me: I know. I mean, why? You needed a receiver.
Martin: But we also needed a corner, and Darius Slay was fast.
Me: Slay played only 353 snaps and still managed to record so many negative grade points that he finished No. 92 among corners in PFF’s rankings.
Martin: Can’t win ‘em all.
Me: What about Keenan Allen?
Martin: What about him?
Me: He was a Top 15 type guy who fell to you in the second round because of injury. And you seem to love drafting injured receivers.
Martin: We didn’t have him rated that high even before the 4.71.
Me: You didn’t have a high rating on a guy who broke out as an 18-year-old true freshman and then as a sophomore recorded 500 more yards and twice as many touchdowns as Marvin Jones?
Martin: He didn’t fit our profile. Plus, I’m not going to concede that we did need a receiver.
Me: You gave 957 snaps to Kris Durham.
Martin: Who is tall, so you should like him.
Me: Stafford had a 63.6 QB Rating when throwing to him.
Martin: Mm, hmm. Because of bad footwork, yes.
Me: Durham finished fourth in the NFL in Drop Rate at 20%. That’s almost as bad as Darrius Heyward-Bey and somehow worse than Greg Little.
Martin: I want to say that was probably Matthew’s fault as well. The weird arm angle makes it hard to pick the ball up out of his hand.
Me: I heard that on one of the telecasts.
Martin: That’s where I heard it too.
Me: It struck me as the single dumbest thing I’d heard in the history of televised sports, and that’s saying something because your previous boss works in television.
Martin: Well, when you put it that way, it might not have been Matthew’s fault. Hard to prove either way. But Durham is big and you seem to believe big automatically means touchdowns.
Me: Durham caught 4 touchdowns in college.
Martin: I’m hoping you’re about to add “in one game” to that.
Me: You’re not sure?
Martin: There was a point in time last year when all our receivers really were hurt and Matty mentioned his college roommate was available. I thought about looking up his history, but we didn’t have any other options and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know.
Me: But the 0.85 yards per route he posted in emergency duty convinced you not to draft a wide receiver?
Martin: We did. Corey Fuller.
Me: Is he good?
Me: Okay, so you didn’t need an impact receiver – because Calvin is only 28, no rush – and that’s why you again passed on Keenan Allen when he somehow miraculously fell to you in the Third Round.
Martin: But we drafted Larry Warford, who was an unqualified success. And you know what they say: Interior offensive linemen win championships.
Me: Do they say that?
Martin: It’s something Tom and I have been saying around the office. We’re hoping it catches on.
Me: And by Tom, you mean Tom Lewand, the final prong in the Millen-led triumvirate? The third man in the brain trust that built the 0-16 reverse juggernaut?
Martin: We prefer to look at that as “Matt’s fault” – not to be confused with “Matthew’s fault” – or as “a learning experience,” depending on the audience. (beat) Anything else, I’ve got to get going. Coach Caldwell is holding a sideline body language seminar a little later. He’s calling it “Game Face.” I told him I’d attend.
Me: Okay, that’s about it. I do have to admit this issue of receivers and dropped passes is bothering me though. Your receiving corps led the NFL with 58 drops. Tom Brady’s horrific cast of characters dropped 53. The next worst was 43. The median was 26 drops. The group of receivers you put together dropped more than twice as many passes as a middle of the road team.
Martin: I’m going to go with “No comment” on that one, except to admit we brought in Joe Lombardi because he got rave reviews for working with Drew Brees on the details.
Me: I saw that Drew Brees only had 25 of his passes dropped, so I’m assuming those are the details he’ll be working on?
Martin: Something like that.
Me: I’ve heard Giselle claim her husband can’t both throw and catch the passes, but your position is that Matthew Stafford can and will.
Martin: Our position is that Matthew Stafford is a franchise quarterback and will do what it takes to get the job done.
Me: So he is a franchise QB at least, even if an undisciplined one with footwork and mechanical issues?
Martin: We hope so, because our new head coach was not very successful in Indianapolis when he didn’t have a franchise quarterback.
Shawn Siegele is a diehard Lions fan and writer for RotoViz and PFF Fantasy. He apologizes for the occasionally negative tone of the interview but admits to being very put off by Mayhew’s comments in the aftermath of many years of flagrant roster mismanagement. You can follow him on Twitter: @FF_Contrarian.
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