Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

HeckertThey say that history teaches us to learn from our mistakes, but when your entire history is basically nothing but one giant on-going mistake, it is probably best to keep things in the present tense.  To Tom Heckert’s credit, his is just one of the names on the list of people who may or may not have had some role in assembling the Cleveland Browns as they exist today.  Truthfully, not many outside the offices in Berea truly know who is driving the bus at this point; most will still assume it’s Mike Holmgren of Seattle radio fame, but I’ll offer the benefit of the doubt to Heckert, and assume that he’s got some semblance of a say with regards to personnel decisions.  Doubts about Heckert’s actual autonomy as a General Manager are nothing new, since most assumed that the same job in Philly was just a glorified title for the role of consigliere to Andy Reid.

Actually, it doesn’t matter what Heckert’s role was with the Eagles, and I’m not extremely concerned with everything he’s done in Cleveland, provided it doesn’t affect the team in its current state.  Sure, he traded Brady Quinn for Peyton Hillis, and that worked out for a few minutes, but with Hillis gone, it leaves no residual influence on the team that has to prepare for an angry Giants team next Sunday.  But, if we’re not praising, I am prepared to be fair, and not dwell on the questionable trade and subsequent re-signing of one Jayme Mitchell.  Nor will I worry about the signing of an ancient Bobby Engram, drafting Clifton Geathers and Carlton Mitchell, or the release of Mangini’s Jet refugees (Kenyon Coleman, Eric Barton, David Bowens).

In some cases, we do have to go back to January 11, 2010 (date of hire) because it gets us to today, but we aren’t out to dwell on little things.  What’s apparent to all of us on October 1, 2012 is that Heckert has had a role in putting an 0-4 product on the field so far in this young NFL season.  Of course, you could say the deck is stacked against Heckert a little bit, with his team taking on a difficult schedule with rookies at the QB, RB, and RT positions.  Unfortunately, I get a little lost figuring out where to point the finger on that situation, and end up back on Heckert.  While he hasn’t exactly missed on any of the blue chip talent, and things look promising for Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, he’s not filling the gaps on a team that lacks talent with the later picks.

McCoyYou only turn to hindsight vision when things end up going wrong, so there was no real “first-guessing” on Colt McCoy or Greg Little, but trading up to draft the oft-injured Montario Hardesty caused an eyebrow or two to rise.  None of them were first-round talent, but some of us held our breath that they would develop into such a thing.  The bottom line is that they didn’t, so the quarterback, running back, and premier receiver positions were glaring needs for the Browns entering the 2012 NFL Draft.  In other words, the Browns had no offense to speak of, but on the bright side, they did have a solid half of an offensive line to build around.  Heckert, in his third year, should not have been dealing with such deficiencies, but, like the decision to fill the void left by Free Agent letdown Tony Pashos at Right Tackle with a platoon of Artis Hicks and Oneil Cousins, these problems are Heckert’s doing.

Colt McCoy did enough to earn the opportunity to play in 2011 with his performance in Eric Mangini’s lame duck season as Head Coach in 2010, a season which was supposed to be a clipboard holding, non-playing, learning year.  Barring catastrophe, McCoy shouldn’t have seen the field at all, but catastrophe struck, and McCoy was thrown into the fire with his first NFL start at Pittsburgh, and followed up with serviceable play against the Patriots, Saints, and Jets.  More than doing what was right for McCoy, not having to address the quarterback situation with the 2011 Draft freed Heckert up to not take talent at the top of the draft, a talent like Julio Jones, for example.

Greg Little was branded as one of those “would-have-been” guys, as in he would have been a first round pick if he wasn’t suspended a full season at North Carolina before entering the Draft.  When the Browns missed out on AJ Green, they opted to pass on the next best option at Wide Receiver, a game-breaker from Alabama, to trade down for the only commodity they were allowed to exchange during the lockout, more draft picks.

The final tally on the picks ended up being Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Brandon Weeden, and Travis Benjamin.  The jury is still out on who wins that trade.  My take is that Atlanta has to win the Super Bowl with Julio Jones, and the Browns have to reach the post-season with the players they received being an integral part of the success; if both or neither occur, I chalk it up as a draw.

You can probably cross Montario Hardesty off your list of people that you’re going to hit up for playoff tickets when the time comes.  If the third-year player from Tennessee is still on the roster when/if this thing comes together, it would be completely coincidental.  As a rookie, Heckert inked him to a 4-year, $2.8 million deal.  He spent his rookie year on Injured Reserve, injuring himself in his only pre-season appearance against Chicago.  Last year, he carried the ball 88 times for 266 yards.  In 2012, the stat sheets indicate that he appeared in the Cincinnati game, but he didn’t carry the ball, so I’d need someone to fill me in on his cameo performance.  By the way, the next points he scores will be his first in the NFL.  Bust is spelled B-U-S-T.

LittleGreg Little, on the other hand, didn’t disintegrate out of the gate.  He didn’t start right away, and he had his drops, but you could scribble that all up as rookie mistakes a year ago.  He appeared in all 16 games, starting 12, with 61 grabs for 709 yards and a pair of TDs.  The problem with being forced into a big role on a bad team is that once you show promise and create hope, you’re expected to fill big shoes.  Little’s sophomore slump leaves you to wonder if he can even tie those big shoes.  Drops aren’t an official statistic, but you better believe the number of unofficial drops offsets any praise you can offer him about his 11 catches through 4 games this season; the ratio (whatever it is) is what I would deem “unacceptable”.

Of course, the roster has been gutted, time and time again, so we can see the fruit of Heckert’s labor on the field most Sundays.  When they manage to get on the field, Joe Haden and Phil Taylor are productive.  TJ Ward, Shawn Lauvao, Jason Pinkston, Eric Hagg, Buster Skrine, and Owen Marecic all get regular playing time.  Aside from Weeden and Richardson, there are quite a few rookies from the 2012 Draft Class on the field regularly, including Mitchell Schwartz (starting at RT), Billy Winn, Travis Benjamin, John Hughes, and Trevin Wade.

One of the bigger question marks is the selection of Josh Gordon with a second round bid in the Supplemental Draft last summer.  Gordon appears to be talented, but like virtually every other Wide Receiver (not named Edwards) the Browns have ever drafted, he doesn't appear to be a sure thing.  Just a few losses away from being "on the clock", it's going to be scary to see what's available when the Browns forfeited second-round pick comes and goes next April.  Taking the second best receiver that Baylor had on the field last year was a huge reach, but a calculated risk for a Front Office that needs to have instant success, a mandate that was in place before news of the ownership shift truly broke.  For a team struggling at the receiver position overall, Gordon isn't doing much to help with 7 catches for 90 yards through 4 games.  From the couch, I'm often left to wonder if he's playing, and it turns out that he is; he's just often invisible, and that isn't a good thing for a guy that's supposed to be part of the solution.

There’s more to being a General Manager than running the draft, but I’d give Heckert an overall passing grade in that category, even though he whiffed on Hardesty, while Little and Marecic don’t appear to be too promising.  This season, the Browns have been desperate for depth, and they came away with some nice finds in LJ Fort, Johnson Bademosi, and Tashaun Gipson; the undrafted free agents have been making plays on special teams all year.

Shouldn’t a GM do more?  We might be restricted by the salary cap, but no more than the other 31 teams that haven’t been as inept as the Browns.  Where’s the big impact player?  The Browns have been so bad for so long, and they haven’t found a consistent play-maker at the top of the draft, nor have they paid—overpaid a big name in free agency.  Quick, who is the best free agent the Browns have brought in during the Expansion Era?  Would you be quick to say that it was not Frostee Rucker, Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong, or anyone else brought in on Heckert’s watch?  Maybe it was Willie McGinest, maybe it was Joe Jurevicius; I don’t know.  (You can’t say it was LeCharles Bentley because he never played.)

The pink elephant in the room is Robert Griffin III, and this falls on Mike Holmgren for not following the rules to trade into a position where the Browns could acquire Griffin III’s services.  You could say what you want about the lack of desire to overpay, but we know the Browns fumbled this deal because they admitted that they did.  We’re not being paranoid when they are out to get us.  Unfortunately, the crap rolls down hill, and Heckert has to share the blame for missing out on a guy who might be a “once in a generation” player.  Griffin III is winning games for Washington, learning on the go, while Browns fans are consoled with the news that Brandon Weeden is having fun playing in the NFL. 

Heckert/HolmgrenWith ownership changing hands later this month, we figure that most of Mike Holmgren’s personnel, himself included, are in a lame duck status for the rest of the season, but Heckert presents an interesting case.  With Joe Banner, a former Eagles executive from 1995-2012, expected to takeover Holmgren’s role, you might think that his experience with Heckert might open the door for Heckert to be retained as long he makes the grade.  That raises the question, does Heckert make the grade here?

Now, I’m not one to hand out grades on a regular basis.  I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin, so I’m just going to take the easy way out here, and stick to Pass/Fail.  When I was in school, the Pass/Fail line was set at 63%, the lowest D you could get, and that was far below the “Being Grounded” line.  That would mean a 10-6 season, perhaps the playoffs, and though I’ll insist the bar be set that high soon, it’s too tall of an order from even Heckert’s toughest critics.  I choose to lower the bar a lot, say, to baseball standards.  If a guy hits three out of ten, he’s outstanding, but two out of ten puts you out of the game unless Chris Antonetti owes you a favor, so the bottom line here is 20% (3-13), and that’s the lower than even the most pessimistic Browns fan can accept.

I was no Math major, but I can figure out this percentage in my head.  If the Browns have played four games, and they haven’t won any of them if you don’t factor in all of the moral victories (or their record against the spread), that puts their winning percentage at 0, also known as The Blutarsky.  That’s failure by any standard.