I wrote over three years ago when Mike Holmgren and his regime joined the Browns that the most important position in the Browns new front office was GM Tom Heckert.
And I still feel that way.
As the Haslam family era of Browns ownership shortly begins, there is a lot of uncertainty as to what will happen to Holmgren, Heckert and Pat Shurmur.
I came away very impressed with new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III. Granted, it was just his introductory press conference, but he already has started the process of endearing himself to Browns fans.
I think if Randy Lerner would’ve shown his personality to Browns fans, instead of staying behind the curtain, Browns fans would’ve really liked the man. However, that’s a moot point now.
However, as Haslam said in his introductory meeting that he’ll be judged by wins and losses and the decisions he makes with those he surrounds himself with will go a long way in determining that.
The biggest mystery to many Browns fans is where does former Eagles Joe Banner figure in all this. Banner stepped down in June from his role as president with the Eagles to get involved in seeking a potential ownership role. It would appear, at least on the surface, that the NFL hooked Banner and Haslam together.
In the big picture, I don’t think it will matter a lot if Holmgren is relieved of his duties. His primary job coming here was to put together a front office to turn things around and that starts with the hiring of Heckert.
Heckert has been drafting the past two years for the 4-3 defense and tailor-making the players to fit the West Coast offense. If Haslam brings in a new GM, it could be another case of starting over.
Even if Shurmur is replaced, as long as Heckert is in place the philosophy and direction will be the same. It is unclear what the relationship between Heckert and Banner is. Heckert worked under Banner in Philadelphia but it is unclear if they were on the same page or not. Heckert left the Eagles to be the Browns GM when he had the opportunity to have final say on the final 53-man roster.
I do get the feeling that Haslam is smart enough to look at the body of work of Heckert in his three plus years with the Browns. Despite drafting the first year for Eric Mangini’s system, he appears to have added a good core of young players. In addition, with a couple trades and a few signings of unrestricted free agents, 16 of the 22 projected starters for 2012 will have been acquired during Heckert’s tenure.
The only holdover starters from prior to the Heckert era area trio on each side of the ball: Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Mohamed Massaquoi on offense and Massaquoi could be replaced in the not too distant future by Josh Gordon or Travis Benjamin.
Defensively, D’Qwell Jackson , Ahtyba Rubin and Kaluka Maiava are the holdovers and Maiava most likely wouldn’t be starting if Scott Fujita wasn’t suspended and Chris Gocong wasn’t lost for the season.
Here’s a capsule of the players brought in by Heckert expected to either start or play key roles in 2012:
2010—Draftees: Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Shawn Lauvao. Unrestricted free agents: Ben Watson and Fujita. Trades: Sheldon Brown and Gocong. Also, draftees Montario Hardesty and Colt McCoy could play key roles.
2011—Draftees: Phil Taylor (injured), Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Jason Pinkston and Eric Hagg. Unrestricted free agent: Dimitri Patterson. Also, drafted players Jordan Cameron and Buster Skrine will play key roles.
2012—Draftees: Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz and James-Michael Johnson. Unrestricted free agent: Frostee Rucker. Drafted players expected to contribute: Josh Gordon, John Hughes, Travis Benjamin, Billy Winn and Brad Smelley.
Haslam spent the past four years as a minority owner of the Steelers or as he dubbed them ‘that other team’. He had to see and experience one of the keys to the Steelers was their blueprint of continuity and building through the draft. The Steelers have had just three coaches since 1969. Meanwhile, the Browns have had three coaches since 2008.
Haslam believes in continuity in his management of his business the Flying J Pilot Travel Centers and will bring that philosophy to the Browns, whether it’s Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur remains to be seen.
He said as much in his first press conference as Browns owner. He also acknowledged that there’s a sense the Browns are on the upswing. If that is the case, Heckert will be the key player behind the success.
The NFL is a bottom line business and the Browns this year face a difficult schedule. They could be 6-10 and be a much better team than a year ago, even winning just a couple more games. It seems that a lot will be how they’re playing by season’s end. In Bernie Kosar’s rookie year of 1985, even though the Browns finished 8-8, the feeling was the Browns were up-and-coming and that was proven as they went to the AFC Championship in three of the next four years.
Hopefully, the feeling by the end of this season will be the same or it will almost be a certainty the new regime will start anew and for Browns fans that means another ‘re-boot’ -- which wouldn’t be a good thing—at least for the near future.