LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has done a bit of everything since he started making football decisions for the franchise.
Mayhew added several veterans in 2009, hoping to fill the many holes from a winless season. The next year, he focused on signing key free agents such as Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson. Coming out of the lockout last summer, he quickly addressed needs at linebacker and cornerback.
Now, he’s embarking on something new.
“It’ll probably be the most challenging offseason so far because of where we are as a football team,” Mayhew told reporters Thursday, less than a week after Detroit’s season ended with a loss at New Orleans in an NFC wild-card game.
The Lions had a 10-win season in Mayhew’s third full season after having eight victories combined the previous two years. They lost twice to the Saints, two times to Green Bay and the other setbacks were against San Francisco and Atlanta.
“I was happy with our performance,” he said. “We took a big step obviously. When you look at the six teams in the NFC (playoffs) we lost to four of them, so we’ve got some work to do to take that next step.”
Mayhew, who was promoted to replace Matt Millen during the 2008 season when Detroit became the NFL’s first 0-16 team, plans to spend the next couple of weeks plotting a strategy to keep some of the franchise’s best assets instead of looking elsewhere to fill voids as he has in the past.
Near the top of his list is trying to sign All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson and coach Jim Schwartz to contract extensions.
Johnson is coming off a spectacular season and entering the final year of his contract with $20-plus million counting against the salary cap. Mayhew said the team has an opportunity to sign Johnson to a new deal this offseason, but doesn’t think it absolutely has to get done because he’ll still be under contract next year.
“I’m not going to suggest a pay cut,” Mayhew joked.
Schwarz is also going into the final season of the four-year deal and has made the most of his first chance to lead a team at any level.
The Lions have already decided to stick with Schwartz’s top assistants by re-signing coordinators Scott Linehan, Gunther Cunningham and Danny Crossman.
Defensive end Cliff Avril, who could command a lucrative deal as a free agent with 19.5 sacks the past two seasons, is definitely due for a raise from the Lions or another team. Mayhew said he doesn’t plan to put the franchise tag on any player to restrict his movement.
Mayhew also wants to re-sign offensive tackle Jeff Backus and said Backus wants to come back. But Mayhew might have a harder time negotiating with Avril, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and backup quarterback Shaun Hill.
With the cap, Mayhew may not be able to give the players he wants what they can get from another team.
“We get paid to deal with those problems and figure out how to make those things work,” he said.
Mayhew has his job because Lions owner William Clay Ford believed in him three years ago when he put Millen’s former assistant in charge. Mayhew said he and Ford speak two to three times a week and met recently.
“He’s very excited about the way the season went and he’s very happy with where we are as a football team right now,” Mayhew said.
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