Decision on McCoy will determine draft picks
Deciding whether to spend the fourth pick in the draft on a quarterback could be the biggest decision Tom Heckert makes as general manager of the Browns, even if he holds onto the job for 10 more years.
From now until the draft -- if the team doesn't answer the question in free agency first -- debate will continue about whether Colt McCoy is the quarterback to lead the Browns not just to the playoffs but to their first Super Bowl.
Eight quarterbacks in the playoffs this year were first-round draft picks, and three of those eight -- the Lions' Matthew Stafford, the Giants' Eli Manning and the 49ers' Alex Smith -- were picked first overall. Manning was drafted by the Chargers and traded to the Giants in 2004, but he was still the first overall pick that year.
The remaining first-round quarterbacks in the playoffs on wild-card weekend were the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the Broncos' Tim Tebow and the Falcons' Matt Ryan.
The Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Ravens' Joe Flacco were on byes in the opening rounds. Both were first-round choice.
Historically, Cleveland team president Mike Holmgren doesn't draft quarterbacks in the first round. The highest he picked a quarterback when he was in charge of the Seahawks' draft was Brock Huard in the third round in 1999. He drafted Josh Booty in the sixth round in 2001 and Jeff Kelly in the seventh round in 2002. Holmgren was stripped of his general manager title by the time the Seahawks drafted Seneca Wallace in the fourth round in 2003.
The only quarterback picked by the Eagles when Heckert was the GM in Philadelphia from 2006-09 was Kevin Kolb in the second round in 2007. With Donovan McNabb entrenched as the starter beginning in 1999, the Eagles never worried about quarterback for almost a decade. The only quarterbacks they drafted between McNabb and Kolb were A.J. Feeley in the fifth round in 2001 and Andy Hall in the sixth round in 2004. Both were viewed strictly as backups.
Obviously, the Browns have never been in that enviable position. When they take a stab at a quarterback, they do so with the hope he could start. But if they spend a first-round pick on Robert Griffin III of Baylor or Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, it would be with the idea of him starting.
Early draft projections have Tannehill as a late first- or early second-round pick, but the quarterback crop in 2012 is thin because USC's Matt Barkley and Oklahoma's Landry Jones elected to return to school. That means some team desperate for Griffin or Tannehill is likely to overpay to trade up.
Fans don't want to think about it, but it would not be a shock if the Browns trade the fourth pick if Griffin is available and they decide they don't want him.
"We have a lot of evaluations to do, and we're going to get the best players we can at any positions," Heckert said. "If we do it at a certain position early in the draft, then that guy is going to be the guy for us, probably. We have a lot of time to think about what we want to do in the draft and free agency, but if we think a guy will help us, we'll go ahead and do it."
The Browns have taken two quarterbacks in the first round since returning to the NFL. Neither worked out. They took Tim Couch first overall in 1999 and Brady Quinn 21st in 2007.
Heckert hopes to bring back D'Qwell Jackson, Dawson
--Eleven players on the Browns' roster will be unrestricted free agents when the league year begins March 12 if they do not sign new contracts before then. The most prominent in the group are running back Peyton Hillis, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and kicker Phil Dawson.
General manager Tom Heckert has said the Browns want to re-sign Jackson and Dawson, but the team has been intentionally noncommittal about Hillis. Jackson was the Browns' leading tackler in 2011, and Dawson said this past season was the best of his 13-year career with the Browns. The Browns gave Dawson the franchise tag last year and could do the same again.
--Safety Mike Adams will also be an unrestricted free agent. He was projected as a backup to Usama Young when training camp began, but he beat out Young and started every game.
Adams made $1.1 million in 2011. The Browns could re-sign him without breaking the bank. The larger question is whether they want to turn the job over to 2011 seventh-round draft pick Eric Hagg. They could also decide Adams is a more reliable backup than Young and re-sign Adams to keep him in the rotation.
--The Browns failed to score a touchdown in four games in 2011. In two games against the Steelers, they scored a total of four field goals.
--Joshua Cribbs had his best season as a receiver by far in 2011. He caught a career high 41 passes and had a career-high four touchdown catches. Cribbs caught 10 passes from Seneca Wallace in the last three games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every player that we have here, I expect that they are going to improve, develop and produce. That is what I expect from (Colt McCoy). If you produce well enough, you become elite." -- Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Pat Shurmur plans no changes on his staff with the huge exception of adding an offensive coordinator. Shurmur doubled as offensive coordinator this season in his first year as a head coach.
Shurmur said calling plays on Sunday is a fun part of the job, but if the Browns hire a coordinator who can do it better, Shurmur will relinquish the role.
"I think it's important that I get the best coordinator I can for us," Shurmur said. "I think that's one of the details that will get worked out as we go through the process."
Possibilities include Brad Childress and current quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. Childress and Shurmur worked together on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia.
The Browns were 30th in points scored (218) in 2011. It was their lowest output since they scored 217 in 2000.