As I keep reading various evaluations and grades on free agency (the second of which is absurd considering it is just starting out. Seriously. Get a grip people!) I keep coming around to lots of big namers.
You know the ones. They clamor for the Lions to pay $$$$ for "insert over the hill or injured or not worth the money big name guy here". Lets sign Shaun Alexander then! He's had a year to recuperate, and was League MVP a couple yearsish back...yeah! Lets bring in S Roy Williams! He must be awesome he has an NFL rule named after him...
I have one phrase: $1 Ninja's cost $1. Don't pay $5 bucks for them. Certainly not $10.
I am referring, of course, to my own classic article last June in regards to Kevin Jones and that class of NFL player -- the Dollar Ninjas.
While the Kevin Jones bit is long past, the principle holds true. Millen constantly spend $5 bucks on $1 players. Agents are used to this, and thinking Mayhew might be like his old boss, showed up in Detroit hands out palms up looking for cash. While Mayhew didn't exactly give them the finger, he essentially said I'll take my chances on looking at 5 UDFA and finding one as talented as you.
And in doing so, he wouldn't be that far off. Washington, WR? Sure, he started to show some flashes. But is he really worth what he'll get paid? Are #2 WR that hard to find?
See, Washington keeps getting Fa and always seems to have holes or aging veterans that need to be replaced... Know why? They try to build through FA. Doesn't work. You get guys in FA for 2 -3 years on average. The cost is also higher for the production you are getting.
Now, the Lions don't just need to upgrade/fill one or two positions with play makers to fill out the team. And even if they did, the draft would be look #1 -- FA if there aren't guys available in that class.
The Lions have literally a dozen spots that could use upgrading immediately. The problem is, there aren't enough reasonable upgrades out there.
Take the rookie pool out of the equation, and then some space to sign injury replacements, and the Lions could sign about 2 - 3 moderately high dollar guys like Washington. They don't need those 3 guys for 2 -3 years. They need 7 or 8 for 2-3 years until they can draft/sign guys to replace them with more talent.
A Lexus is a really expensive Toyota with a better suspension, more shiny parts, and different sheet metal. It costs a lot more, but deep down it's a Camry.
Same thing with some of these free agents. A 3rd WR, a 3rd CB, a 3rd S. How much difference is there really? The big name OG or the lower rated OG? Mayhew isn't delusional enough to think playoffs next year. So he is just tossing that idea out the window in his planning. Will the team try to win? Of course. Will he take a Marinelli approach make a team of over-the-hill guys to "win now" and ignore the development of the young guys, including playing time? I don't think he or Schwartz will do so.
He is building long term. That means he knows that getting from a level 6 to a level 8 player (out of 10) at some positions isn't going to make or break next season. The long term solutions are what he is looking for. The Lions have no real solid core of talent to build around that playoff teams do. I'm not talking 4 or 5 players, but 30 or 40 players. Mayhew knows that any success the Lions have will be short term until that core can be built, and the only way to do it is through the draft and smart FA signings.
If you know you are going to be wearing an outfit to dig out a foundation, and lay brick work, do you go and buy an Armani suit or do you get a good pair of jeans and some work shirts?
Right now, think of the Lions as an expansion team. They are building the foundation of their new business enterprise. Right now, an Armani suit isn't going to get them to the next level of interviews or customers -- they need to build the business first! So they are going for cost effective utilitarian signings. It's appropriate for their situation.
Assuming the next CBA has a cap (I think it will) they want to be able to play it so they can re-sign their good players long term, and use their cap space on their own guys, and bring in FA where needed to fill gaps. That is how the best teams do it, and what the Lions are looking to do...
One last thought...SI.com had a piece on biggest draft busts... notice how most of them are from the late 90's (except for Washington, who had the most on the list by far) when FA was just starting. There were two reasons for this: More players moved teams as the NFL worked to figure out ways to keep the guys they wanted, but only letting go guys past their prime, etc. So while a few FA hit the market in their prime (Like Drew Brees, but even he was an injury risk. Looks like the Glue has held for him.) most that are out there are on the market for a reason -- even Haynesworth the $100 million man. Keep that in mind if you are demanding the Lions overpay for a player.
There are a lot of $5 utilitarian toys out there right now -- but that doesn't mean Mayhew should be paying $10 bucks for them. He should be commended for not.