Browns GM hopes to return next season

Tom Heckert has rebuilt the Browns, infusing them with talent

and adding depth to a roster with none.

And now, just as the young team he’s put together is reaching

its potential and still in the AFC playoff hunt, Heckert could be

down to his final weeks as Cleveland’s general manager.

By season’s end, Heckert may be replaced by new owner Jimmy

Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, who are likely to overhaul Cleveland’s

front office and coaching staff.

”You know, it’s going to be disappointing,” Heckert said

Friday when asked about the prospect of not returning. ”But I do

get it. It’s just one of those things. There’s a variety of reasons

why that could happen, but I’m OK with that. I don’t know how else

to react. If it doesn’t work out, I can’t just sit around and pout

about it, I’ve got to go try to do it somewhere else.

”We’ll see what happens.”

These are days of uncertainty for the Browns (5-8), who take a

three-game winning streak into Sunday’s matchup with the Washington

Redskins. Heckert’s future is in doubt as is that of second-year

coach Pat Shurmur, who can bolster his chances to stay by winning

out.

Haslam and Banner won’t make any decisions until after the

finale at Pittsburgh, and Heckert knows there’s a chance they may

go in a different direction.

If that’s the case, team captains – Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas

and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson – said the Browns would be making a

big mistake in letting Heckert go.

”It would be really upsetting,” Thomas said. ”You just look

at the track record he had in Philadelphia and he’s been such a big

part of this upswing that we’re on now with all the young talent on

this roster. It would be a shame if we let him go anywhere

else.”

Said Jackson, ”I’ll be the first guy in line to support Tom to

stay here with the Browns.”

Heckert doesn’t know what’s ahead. He expects to have an answer

about his future ”right away” after the season. He doesn’t know

if Haslam and Banner have already made up their minds.

It’s possible that Heckert, who spent four seasons as the Eagles

GM, could stay on if he relinquishes some power. He said having

control of the 53-man roster is essential, but that it wouldn’t

necessarily be a deal breaker.

”I’m not going to lie. It’s important,” he said. ”It’s why I

came here. I’m not saying it’s an end-all, but it’s very important

to me.”

Heckert has ”final say” authority written into his current

contract. It allows him to draft, chase free agents and work with

the coach on training camp decisions without intervention. However,

Heckert pointed out that most decisions are a collaborative.

”In my 24 years or whatever it’s been, I’ve never had one issue

on cutdown,” Heckert said. ”Now, who has the say on the draft and

all the other stuff, it’s written in my contract. For me, it’s who

picks the players and who makes the trades, all of that stuff.

That’s the stuff that I think is important.”

Banner is restructuring the Browns so that everyone in the front

office reports to him. He spent 19 years with Philadelphia, where

he worked with Heckert, who said the two still get along.

”It’s been great. We talk about whatever,” he said. ”No

matter what happens, Joe and I are fine.”

Heckert said he honestly doesn’t have a sense about his future,

and he believes waiting is best for everyone involved.

”It’s the right thing to do,” he said ”I can handle two

weeks.”

Asked if the Browns should keep him and Shurmur, Heckert nearly

came out of his chair with his response.

”YES!!!” he said, laughing.

Heckert seems at ease despite the unrest around him.

Since joining the Browns in 2010 – he was the first person hired

by former team president Mike Holmgren – Heckert has transformed

Cleveland’s roster through the draft and a few key free-agent

signings. This year alone, he selected running back Trent

Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and offensive tackle

Mitchell Schwartz – who have each started all 13 games – in the

first three rounds.

In July’s supplemental draft, he gambled and picked wide

receiver Josh Gordon, who had been kicked off the team at Baylor

for marijuana use and sat out a season in Utah. After a slow start,

Gordon has developed into Cleveland’s top playmaker with 18 catches

in his past three games.

The Browns have turned their season around, and Thomas believes

Heckert deserves the credit.

”You can’t point to anything he’s really done wrong as far as

all the moves he’s made,” Thomas said. ”Bringing in talent,

building through the draft, everybody he has drafted is a solid

contributor and then you find your diamonds in the rough in rounds

4-7, and he’s done that. He’s really turned this roster over.”

Heckert has been touched by the support he’s gotten from Browns

fans, some of whom have begun a campaign to keep him. The

uncertainty has been hard on his scouting staff and family,

including his parents, who fly in from Florida for every home game.

Heckert’s father, Tom, spent five seasons as a scout for the Browns

in the `80s.

Cleveland seems on the cusp of a long, successful run.

Heckert started it, and he wants to finish it.

”Of course,” he said. ”I really enjoy the city and I really

enjoy this team, so that would be the ideal situation.”

NOTES: Speaking for the first time since he was hospitalized,

guard Jason Pinkston feels grateful to be alive following a health

scare that ended his season. Pinkston was hospitalized in October

following a game against Cincinnati with blood clots in his lungs.

He said doctors told him if he had taken a hit in the game that ”I

could’ve probably died then so I’m all happy about it that I’m

still here.” He has been working out and plans to play next

season. …. For the second week, the Browns did not have any

players listed as ”out,” ”doubtful,” or ”questionable” on

their injury report.

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