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
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
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
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
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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