Should Martin Mayhew’s tenure in Detroit give Commanders fans faith in Washington?

Should Mayhew's tenure in Detroit give Commanders fans faith? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It has been well documented that the 2022 season is a vital one for the Commanders. Entering Year 3 under Ron Rivera, the head coach has gone on the record multiple times over the past several months stating his expectation for the franchise to take a step forward this fall.

Rivera calls the shots in Ashburn under the team’s ‘coach-centric’ approach. But his right-hand man is general manager Martin Mayhew, whom Washington hired during the 2021 offseason. Mayhew, who played for the franchise from 1989-1992, is currently experiencing his second chance as a GM. He served in the same position for the Detroit Lions from 2008-2015.

Unfortunately, both Washington and Detroit have had a similar lack of success over the past few decades. The Lions’ last playoff win came in 1992, while Washington hasn’t won a postseason contest since 2006. 

However, although Mayhew’s Lions teams couldn’t ultimately win when it counted, he did put together some of the most talented Detroit squads in recent memory. Just ask D.C. native and now Lions play-by-play announcer Dan Miller.

“Martin built the best team we’ve had here since the 90s in 2014,” Miller said on a recent episode of the Washington Football Talk podcast.

“The [2014 Lions] team that lost to Dallas on a picked-up flag — they also did some dumb things to beat themselves in that game — that was the best team the Lions have had in 30 years — or 25 years at least,” Miller continued. “So, he can do it. He did do it here.”

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Mayhew first joined the Lions organization in 2004 when he was hired as a senior executive. He was shortly promoted to assistant general manager, a title he would hold for four years before being promoted to GM in September of 2008.

When Mayhew took over as general manager, the Lions were in the midst of arguably the worst season in NFL history. Detroit finished the 2008 campaign with an 0-16 record and a -247 point differential. That was rock bottom.

That dreadful season allowed Detroit to take Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the first pick in Mayhew’s tenure as GM. After winning just two games in 2009, Detroit won six in 2010. One year later, Mayhew’s Lions were back in the playoffs after going 10-6 in 2011, but would ultimately lose in the Wild Card game to the Saints.

The Lions would miss out on the playoffs the next two seasons, but Detroit emerged as one of the NFC’s better teams in 2014. After relying on Stafford and the offense for so many seasons, Mayhew built a defense in Detroit that was feared. The 2014 Lions finished with an 11-5 record in the regular season and with the league’s third-ranked defense.

History repeated itself again for the Lions in the postseason, though, as they fell to Dallas in the Wild Card round. This game was extremely close, however, and had a couple of non-calls been flagged, the Lions would have won that game. 

“You have to tip your hat and say that team was the best we’ve had,” Miller said. “[They] had the opportunity to do some damage and [Martin] built that. He took an 0-16 team and got them to a couple of playoff appearances.”

Detroit struggled out of the gate in 2015 and Mayhew was fired after a 1-7 start. Since Mayhew’s firing, the Lions have made the playoffs just once (2016). Detroit has finished last in the NFC North in each of the past four seasons and just saw Stafford, its former franchise QB, win a Super Bowl in his first season elsewhere with the Rams.

So, although Mayhew’s tenure in Detroit didn’t necessarily translate into postseason success, he was able to turn the worst team in the NFL into a playoff-bound squad on multiple occasions. That’s worth something.

In Washington, Mayhew inherited a team in much better shape than the Lions squad he took over. The Commanders made the playoffs in 2020 and have a plethora of young talent on both sides of the football. And, after the 2022 offseason, both Mayhew and Rivera expect Washington to make the postseason this fall — especially if Mayhew’s Detroit tenure is any indication of what’s to come.

“Martin can do the job,” Miller said. “His track record isn’t impeccable — it’s not like he’s got Super Bowls sitting on it. But, as I look at it as the people that have come through [Detroit], Martin is certainly more competent than most.”

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