Since the Lions fired Matt Millen as president in September, general manager Martin Mayhew has been careful not to criticize his old boss, even though the public is skeptical because he spent more than seven years working under him.
But Mayhew has made it clear he wants to do things differently. Look at his actions, parting with players from the Millen regime. Listen to his comments closely.
"I'll say something about the draft," Mayhew said at the NFL owners' meetings in Dana Point, Calif. "This is what happens every year. Everybody wants to give a grade in April. The end of April, they want to grade everybody's draft.
"And what is it based on? It's based on pundits, the experts, the prognosticators, and they say what your needs are. In their mind, they say what they think you need, and if you go out and get those things, then you get an A.
"We've gotten A's before in April, but then three years later, it doesn't look as good as it looked in April. So my emphasis should be on how this looks three years from now, not how it looks in April. So we might not get an A. I'll tell you that now. My goal is to get an A three years from now."
Millen failed badly in the draft, but it wasn't always apparent at the time. With the 10th pick in 2005, he landed the player who ranked No. 1 by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. The player was wide receiver Mike Williams, and Williams was a spectacular bust.
But Williams wasn't the only failure in that class. In fact, all six players the Lions drafted that year are no longer with the team.
"That's true," Mayhew said. "That's my point, and that was supposed to be a really good draft. And there have been several like that. In April, you got a great grade on what the draft was, but three years later, all those guys are gone."
Millen often traded up in the draft. But when he missed on the player he targeted, it came at an extra cost because of the assets he had given up.
"I'm more of a trade-back type of guy," Mayhew said. "I would never say never, but I would be much more inclined to trade back than I would to trade up.
"Usually if you assume the draft is about value, usually that would indicate you would try to trade back most of the time, because you're not going to get value giving up picks to get up."
Mayhew wants value.
"You may take the specific need late in the draft to fill a roster spot," Mayhew said. "But to me, at the top especially, you definitely have to look at who's the best player for this season and for future seasons."
That doesn't mean the Lions will always take the absolutely highest-rated player on their board. If they have two players rated relatively closely, they will take the player at the position of need. But if they have Player A rated appreciably higher than Player B, they will take P
layer A. "It's where you draw that line," Mayhew said. "You can't reach for a position."
- The Lions have begun preliminary contract talks with candidates for the No. 1 pick in the draft. "We have to have robust dialogue with the agents representing the players that we're interested in," president Tom Lewand said. "We've started that process. We have to have that. We've made it very clear to all of them that we have to have that as this month draws to a close and we get into April." Lewand said the Lions have talked to the agents of more than three players. They have talked about general parameters and contract structure. That's important because under the current collective bargaining agreement, this is the last season under a salary cap, greatly affecting the rules. Talks will get more specific and serious later. At the NFL scouting combine in February, general manger Martin Mayhew said reaching a contract with the No. 1 pick before the draft is of "critical importance." He said he envisioned negotiating with at least three prospects about a couple of weeks before the April 25-26 draft. "It may be even sooner than that because of the complexity of the rules," Lewand said. "We've already started discussions, and I don't see any reason why we can't advance those discussions with multiple parties as we're narrowing the decision-making."
- Did the Lions' new logo leak out because of a toy truck? For a while now, the Lions have played coy about plans to tweak their logo and uniform. Lewand has refused to confirm or deny speculation the team will unveil the new stuff before the draft in April. But a toy truck for sale on nflshop.com appeared to show a new font for the word "Lions" and a new logo - with some alterations to make the cat look a little meaner. Shown a picture of the logo, general manager Martin Mayhew said he had never seen it before. "My glasses are a little dirty," he said, "so I might not be able to see it." Lewand said: "Like I've said all along, throughout the course of this off-season, we're looking to get tougher, we're looking to get stronger - every way we can get tougher and stronger and meaner through the course of this off-season."
- If the NFL and NFL Players' Association don't reach a new collective bargaining agreement and there is no salary cap in 2010, the Lions are fine with that. "The uncapped year doesn't scare us at all," Lewand said. "As a matter of fact, I think there are a lot of advantages to it." The rules would change. Players would be eligible for unrestricted free agency after six years, not four. Teams could tag one player with a franchise or transition tag, then another player with a transition tag. Now they can tag only one player to restrict his movement on the market. "You're talking about an ability to have a lot more opportunities to keep your own players and to keep some stability - particularly with where we are as a franchise right now, to keep some of those guys around longer as we're building the product," Lewand said. The new rules should shrink the pool of free agents. Lewand dismissed the idea of owners backing up Brinks trucks to pay free agents. "Who are you backing the Brinks truck up to get?" Lewand said. "Who?"
- The Lions will keep training camp at team headquarters this year, and they will keep it open to the public. But they are open to moving it in the future. "It'll be in Allen Park," Lewand said. "It'll be open. We have to work through the logistics, but yes, we like the model from last year. We like opening it back up. I think we need to do more of that to the extent we can. Would we look to possibly move training camp again? I've said it before: We're open to looking at all different things that strengthen our business and strengthen our product."
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just said to him, 'Detroit, at some point they're going to win. At some point, they're going to win and win big. I don't know when it's going to be. But at some point, it's going to happen.' Hell, I'd want to be the quarterback of that, too, when that happens. That would be a great place to be whenever that comes around." - Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, on what he told Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, a candidate to be the Lions' pick first overall.