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Does Heckert have a future with the Browns?

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Posted Oct. 18, 2012 @ 1:12 p.m. ET
By Steve DiMatteo

On Tuesday, Jimmy Haslam III was unanimously approved to become the new Browns owner. That obviously didn’t come as a surprise, but the turnaround on his first order of business did.

Shortly after Haslam’s approval, it was reported that current team president Mike Holmgren will be replaced by former Eagles president Joe Banner, who will become CEO. It has long been known that Banner would have a role with the team, but Haslam wasted no time in making it happen.

That probably doesn’t say much about Haslam’s future as an owner. In fact, it’s entirely possible that this was more of an amicable split than anything else. While Holmgren said publicly that his intention was to fulfill his five-year contract, the impression has been that he was looking beyond his time in Cleveland.

This is purely added speculation, but with the team seemingly heading in a positive direction, the stars might have been aligned for Holmgren to leave the organization without the feeling of abandonment accompanying the departure.

“Mike has decided that his role would change a lot, with us coming in and taking a more active role,” Haslam said. “Effective at the end of the season, Mike will leave the team and retire. He will work very closely with us over the next three months to make sure the transition goes smoothly; he’s committed to doing everything he can to make the Browns a good football team.”

But let’s forget about Holmgren for a second. What about the people left in Cleveland, like GM Tom Heckert and head oach Pat Shurmur? Does Holmgren’s quick exit mean their days are numbered?

Haslam has talked about building a model of consistency, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if he and Banner clean house after the season ends.

Should they, though? The Browns are sitting at a painful 1-5 record, but it would be hard to find many people who think the roster is hopeless. In fact, the general consensus has shifted toward actual optimism.

Much of this turnaround can be attributed to Heckert. In his three years as general manager, he has taken one of the oldest rosters in the league, gutted it, and infused it with young talent on both sides of the ball.

Take a look at the three drafts Heckert has overseen while in Cleveland:

2010: CB Joe Haden (first round; seventh overall), S T.J. Ward (second round; 38thoverall), RB Montario Hardesty (second round; 59th overall), QB Colt McCoy (third round; 85thoverall), OG Shawn Lauvao (third round; 92ndoverall), S Larry Asante (fifth round; 160thoverall), WR Carlton Mitchell (sixth round; 177thoverall), and DE Clifton Geathers (sixth round; 186thoverall)

2011: DT Phil Taylor (first round; 21stoverall), DE Jabaal Sheard (second round; 37thoverall), WR Greg Little (second round; 59thoverall), TE Jordan Cameron (fourth round; 102ndoverall), FB Owen Marecic (fourth round; 124thoverall), CB Buster Skrine (fifth round; 137thoverall), OG Jason Pinkston (fifth round; 150thoverall), and S Eric Hagg (seventh round; 248thoverall)

2012: RB Trent Richardson (first round; third overall), QB Brandon Weeden (first round; 22ndoverall), OL Mitchell Schwartz (second round; 37thoverall), WR Josh Gordon (second round; supplemental), DT John Hughes (third round; 87thoverall), WR Travis Benjamin (fourth round; 100thoverall), LB James-Michael Johnson (fourth round; 120thoverall), OL Ryan Miller (fifth round; 160thoverall), LB Emmanuel Acho (sixth round; 204thoverall), DT Billy Winn (sixth round; 205thoverall), CB Trevin Wade (seventh round; 245thoverall), and FB-RB Brad Smelley (seventh round; 247thoverall)

Of those 28 draft picks, 21 have made some sort of significant contribution to the team. While that hasn’t equaled many wins for the Browns just yet, the team is slowly building depth through the draft, which is exactly how a winning franchise operates.

And of those 28 draft picks, many have not only contributed, but have been true hits. Heckert hasn’t wasted any of his first picks, selecting Haden, Taylor and Richardson. Other players like Sheard, Ward, Weeden, Schwartz and Gordon (so far) have performed well. Even rookie DTs John Hughes and Billy Winn have played well in the absence of Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin.

Despite all of this, Haslam and Banner very well might bring in a completely new front office simply to start fresh. That will also introduce a shift in philosophy and a potential change in direction. Like Heckert, Banner wants to build through the draft, but will his GM (whoever that may be) see what is taking place and stay the course? Or will the Browns suffer through another painful transitional period until a new system takes hold?

If Haslam and Banner were truly invested in consistency, Heckert would be given the opportunity to finish what he started. Of course, there is the question of who will even be making football decisions under the new regime. If Heckert has to give up some of that power, would he follow Holmgren’s lead?

According to league sources, Heckert doesn’t feel confident about keeping his job past this season, which is understandable. It would be a shame to see him leave, right when his draft classes begin to blossom.

Maybe Haslam (or, more importantly, Banner) senses this. Maybe it still won’t matter. Either way, it will be a telling sign about Haslam’s future as an owner. It has to work out well, because the Cleveland Browns organization can’t afford a step back into complete and utter chaos.

Firing Heckert now would put them on the brink.

Steve DiMatteo is a freelance writer based in Cleveland who currently serves as the editor/lead writer of Dawg Pound Daily. You can follow him on Twitter at steve_dimatteo.

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