By: Jamie Samuelsen
Sometimes it’s awfully hard to be a Lions fan.
Other than the playoff berth in 2011, there’s been extraordinarily little to get excited about with this team. Some longtime Lions fans/sufferers jokingly refer to the NFL Draft as the “Lions’ Super Bowl” because it’s the one day every calendar year that fans can have a certain level of hope and optimism. And usually, those emotions are quickly dashed.
So it’s darkly comical that so many fans are trying to read the tealeaves and decipher what the hiring of Xanders actually means. As the 49ers and Ravens prepare for the Super Bowl, the Lions are left trying to shore up their front office after a disastrous end to the 2012 season. Fans are trying to decide just how excited they should be about the fact that Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz are still in power and all that happened is that another man was brought in to the scouting department as a Senior Personnel Executive. It’s a pretty impressive title, and one that already happens to be held by James “Shack” Harris who is not losing his job as a result of the Xanders hiring.
As far as Lions moves go, this isn’t necessarily one that will make you rush to renew your season tickets. But you would have to be deeply cynical to find any fault with the hire. I suppose the only two logical counters would be 1) It’s the Lions (hard to argue with that one) and 2) Xanders was hired by Mayhew who doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record for identifying talent of any kind. Both those are fair reasons for skepticism. But beyond that, everything about this makes sense.
First and foremost, unless there was some edict from ownership, Mayhew appears to have done this on his own. The Lions brass (Mayhew and Schwartz) has given off a vibe from day one that they were the smartest guys in the room. Mayhew rarely appears or speaks publicly. Schwartz has stuck firmly to his philosophies even when last season was spinning out of control. Many (myself included) called for Schwartz to replace offensive coordinator Scott Linehan after last season. Instead, Linehan has an extension and Schwartz said that his offensive coordinator had a “great” year. In other words, it didn’t seem like either man was doing much introspection. So the Xanders move is a rather clear statement that the status quo is not working and Mayhew is looking to shake things up in the front office. Actual change will bring deserved praise from the fans and media. But the willingness to change deserves some positive comments from even the harshest critics.
Second, Xanders isn’t exactly a hail mary. When the Lions hired Matt Millen, he had no track record in personnel. But most liked the move because, “why not?” That turned out to be a disastrous reason to make such a bold move. Thankfully, Xanders comes with zero element of “why not?” He’s worked with such coaches as Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan and John Fox. He oversaw three draft classes during his time in Denver. Those classes ranked #1 in the NFL in playing time, #2 in starts and #2 in overall players. Contrast that with the Lions who drafted seven players last April and only one (Bill Bentley) was a regular starter until he was injured, and by regular starter, he started just three games.
The whole key to this thing is the phrase “another set of eyes”. Whatever Mayhew has been doing in the scouting process and the drafting process has not been working. Will Xanders fix it? It’s way too soon to say anything that strong. But again, the willingness to try to fix it is something we haven’t seen from Mayhew yet and an encouraging sign.
He’s not a cover corner. He’s not a rush end. He’s not even a kick returner. So don’t start celebrating until some of those positions are filled. But if Xanders can at least alter the scouting and drafting process for the Lions, this could be a rather significant move.