By Tony Grossi
For the third week in a row the Hey Tony inbox was flooded with support for General Manager Tom Heckert. At the same time, Browns CEO Joe Banner continued to take his hits, along with Mike Lombardi, the widely rumored front-runner to replace Heckert if Banner makes a change.
Hey Tony: Seeing that Mitchell Schwartz is playing great at right tackle, what are the chances that he would take over for Joe Thomas at left tackle if Joe were to get hurt OR when the dreaded day comes that Joe Thomas retires?
-- Greg, Willoughby, OH
Hey Greg: Considering that Thomas has not missed a snap IN SIX YEARS, I won’t even touch the first question. As for the second, Thomas has another SIX YEARS on his current contract, so I will pass on that one, too. Could Schwartz play left tackle in the NFL? Sure. But the reason he was so attractive to the Browns is that he was developed mostly at right tackle at Cal and a long-term complement to Thomas is what they were looking for.
Hey Tony: I would like your opinion on the ease or difficulty in Haslam/Banner replacing the coaches and GM. I would personally keep Pat Shurmur, but he would be the least risky replacement. The team is young and improving and should have a better record next year. If they keep a 4-3 defense, Dick Jauron can be replaced without a major setback. Let’s face it, coaches are graded on wins and losses! However, Tom Heckert is another story. With no second round pick and the first round selection getting later with each win, it's possible no draft choice could crack the starting lineup. The players WILL be compared to previous drafts. I wouldn't want to be evaluated against Heckert's past drafts. He also hasn't overspent and has cap space to be utilized. Do you feel that a new GM would have a difficult time in Cleveland replacing a successful GM or is it just wins and losses?
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: First, I would say that Jauron would be difficult to replace. He is responsible for developing the players individually and the unit as a whole. Jauron is immensely respected. I would do everything to keep him in place. Heckert has done the dirty work in gutting the roster and assuring the salary cap is in great shape moving forward. Heckert’s drafting also has fit the foundation pieces at quarterback, running back, offensive line, wide receiver and defensive line. That’s a tough act to follow.
Hey Tony: It looks like San Diego is finally going to dump their GM, A.J. Smith after the season. Sure seems like this would be a great place for Tom Heckert to land if the Browns fire him, doesn't it?
-- Steve, Geneva, IL
Hey Steve: I’m sure the Chargers’ job will be sought by a lot of people.
Hey Tony: We are all concerned if Jauron does not return and a switch to another style of defense, but what if Shurmur does not return and another offensive scheme is introduced? I realize we do not have the all the numbers to switch on defense, but what impact do you see (if any) if we dump the WCO and go another direction?
-- Rod, Athens, OH
Hey Rod: I don’t think the transition to another offensive system would be as damaging as switching defenses from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Unless, of course, that offense is something like what Chip Kelly does at Oregon and requires a quarterback with superior mobility. Weeden would become instantly obsolete.
Hey Tony: Thank you for the great years covering the Brownies and for bringing a stronger Cleveland presence over to the "worldwide leader". A question I had is now that we are 13 games into the season we can probably start to assess Heckert's use of the Supplemental Draft pick on Gordon and how it compares to the other top WRs from the 2012 Draft. I'm interested in how you think JG13 stacks up with other first- and second-round WR picks from the draft (Blackmon, Floyd, Wright, Randle, Hill, Jeffery, Quick). If he was in the actual draft I would think he would be a clear cut first round pick knowing what we do now right? Go Browns 2014 Super Bowl!
-- Jeff, Boston MA
Hey Jeff: At this point, I would take Gordon over any of the receivers you mention. Some may have better statistics in certain categories. Whatever. I know what I see and what I see is a player with elite skills who can – if he keeps working hard and keeps focused hard on his career – can be an elite receiver for a lot of years to come.
Hey Tony: Who did the Browns draft with the picks they received from Atlanta in the Julio Jones trade? Also, what picks were the Browns unwilling to trade to Washington that would have secured them the 2nd pick for RG3? Who did we draft with them?
-- Owen, Silver Lake, OH
Hey Owen: The players the Browns selected with the Atlanta draft picks were: Phil Taylor (first round), Greg Little (second) and Owen Marecic (fourth), plus Brandon Weeden (first, 2012). They also traded back up in the first round to select Taylor and gave up a third (Justin Houston) to Kansas City. The trade for RG3 would have given the Rams both first-round picks in 2012, a second in 2012 and a first in 2013. Those plays from the 2012 draft were Trent Richardson, Weeden and Mitchell Schwartz.
Hey Tony: I think Josh Gordon can be big time. I do not think many people outside the Browns organization thought that he could develop so quickly and be so essential to the their passing offense. He is productive on the road and nearly half (44%) of his receptions have come in the past 3 weeks. He continues to grow, and he is only 21! Could this quick ascension into a serious WR threat mean that the Browns opt out of acquiring a 1st round WR draft pick? Is there a higher chance that they work the free agency market instead? And finally, if they do go through the draft, would a WR such as Keenan Allen or Tavon Austin put Gordon into a No. 2 role?
-- Scott, Coral Gables, FL
Hey Scott: I don’t think a wide receiver is in the plans for the Browns in the first round in April. As for Allen or Austin, I wouldn’t think either would oust Gordon out of the No. 1 role at this point.
Hey Tony: Is Joe Banner a later day version of Carmen Policy: the cap guy miscast as Team President?
-- Daryl, Euclid, OH
Hey Daryl: I don’t think Banner is miscast as team president. I think he’s perfectly qualified for that job. But I don’t think he should stick his nose into football operations. I would rather see an organization chart in which Banner and the head of football operations are on the same plane, each reporting directly to the owner.
Hey Tony: Now I'm not ready to crown the Browns or anything, but would it be farfetched of me to say that the team finally has a solid foundation to add to?
Are there any GOOD reasons to bring in Mike Lombardi?
-Luke, Southington, OH
Hey Luke: I’m not aware of any, no.
Hey Tony: Do you think Romeo Crennel would have more success if he didn’t keep hiring guys like Maurice Carthon and Brian Daboll as his offensive assistants?
-- Joshua, Fullerton, CA
Hey Joshua: Coaches tend to surround themselves with associates from their past with whom they are comfortable. Oftentimes this results in better candidates not being considered.
Hey Tony: I've followed your work for a long time and, as a Browns fan for the past 45+ years, I find it comforting that you have my back. Leading the fight to keep Art Modell out of the HOF and Mike Lombardi out of Cleveland are just two examples For that and all your good work I thank you. My question is why does Weeden continue to have so many of his passes knocked down? Is it poor pass-blocking technique or flawed passing mechanics? I look forward to a time when this issue is resolved.
-- Brett, Atlanta, GA
Hey Brett: There is probably more than one reason for the constant batted balls. Some of it has to do with the line’s good pass blocking. Defensive linemen, exasperated at not getting penetration, stop rushing and instead raise their arms just as Weeden unloads. Other times, Weeden has locked on a receiver and this has enabled a lineman to time a deflection. Overall, Weeden simply has not done a good enough job of throwing through the unblocked passing lanes.
Hey Tony: What’s the scoop on Josh Cooper? Is he inactive because of his knee injury or do the Browns coaches actually think that Travis Benjamin is a better receiver/special teams player?
-- D A, Centreville, VA
Hey D A: I think Benjamin is prioritized ahead of Cooper because of a. his speed and b. he was drafted and Cooper was not. The fact is that aside from Josh Gordon and Greg Little, the coaches are looking for receivers who can be counted on to practice every day and be in the lineup on Sunday. Injured players go to the back of the line.
Hey Tony: A lot has been written about the solid drafting that Tom Heckert has done, but I also think he deserves credit for moves he didn't make. There was a lot of public pressure to sign or trade for people like Kevin Kolb, Matt Flynn and every free-agent receiver in NFL history, but Heckert wisely stuck to his own viewpoint and evaluations. When Joe Banner looks at "how a team is built," do you think he'll also consider moves that were excellent because they were never made?
-- Stan, West Des Moines, IA
Hey Stan: You are correct. There were many temptations in free agency and trade that Heckert resisted. Another good non-move was not signing wide receiver Robert Meachem. Remember his drop late in the game in a 7-6 Browns win over San Diego? My own belief is that Banner’s mind is made up and these type of analyses will not save Heckert’s job.
Hey Tony: Draft day 1995. When the Jets took Kyle Brady at #9 and the Browns subsequently panicked and traded down to pick #30, who was responsible for it? Belichick or Mike Lombardi? How bad was the mood in the draft room that day in Berea?
-- David, Pittsburgh, PA
Hey David: Lombardi did not have the influence to swing a trade like that. That was on Belichick. However, the untold story at the time was that owner Art Modell was careening toward personal bankruptcy. Belichick was being encouraged to trade down to save Modell from having to pay a higher cash signing bonus for a higher draft pick. Nevertheless, Belichick probably would have drafted Brady at No. 10. When Brady was taken one spot ahead of him, Belichick swapped places with the 49ers for their No. 1 in 1996. That pick in ’96 ultimately was used by the newly named Baltimore Ravens on Ray Lewis.
Hey Tony: I was thinking about how impressive Robert Griffin has looked, and the offense that Washington has designed for him. It just occurred to me that if Cleveland had successfully bid for him he would not be having the season he's having. I think Pat Shurmur would have tried to force that square peg into the round hole that is his West Coast offense. What are your thoughts on that? Love your writing.
-- Bob, Philadelphia, PA
Hey Bob: If a head coach is uncomfortable with a quarterback’s ability to run his offense, I think it’s a good idea to not pair them up. In the case of Griffin, I plead guilty to not being 100 percent sold on him as a Browns quarterback v. the cost to acquire him. I would have been 100 percent sold on the same trade for Andrew Luck. Both players are fantastic at what they do. No matter how far Griffin’s career soars with the Redskins, I will never say, “The Browns really blew it by not offering the moon for him,” because I wouldn’t have done it, either. Besides, the Rams preferred Washington’s offer of No. 1 draft picks in three consecutive drafts rather than the Browns’ alleged offer of two No. 1s in 2012 and one in 2013. Both offers reportedly included a No. 2 in 2012.
Hey Tony: I really miss you at the Plain Dealer. I live in Rochester, NY. Being a long time Browns Fan growing up in Cleveland and graduating from THE Ohio State University I read Cleveland.com/browns every day. It isn't the same without you. BTW I was at the Oakland game for red-right88 and at the Jets game where Mark G. roughed Bernie to keep the drive alive, and finally at the Denver game with the Drive. I also was at the Buffalo playoff game when Clay Mathews Sr. intercepted the ball in the end zone to secure the victory. Oh for the glory days! I agree wholly on your assessment of Mike Lombardi. However, if you see this, and others see this, do you really think a supposed great football mind like Banner would fall for Lombardi's smoke and mirror con game? Also, if the Browns win 2 more games, (very good chance given their schedule) do you think that Banner would fire Heckert or even Shurmur. I think that everyone on this planet knows that the reason we are where we are is because of continual management and coaching changes. Thanks and Merry Christmas.
-- Ron, Rochester, NY
Hey Ron: Here’s a suggestion: Bookmark ESPNCleveland.com/grossi and you can read me twice a day, every day. Banner has some kind of fascination for Lombardi dating back to their two years together before then-GM Tom Modrak fired Lombardi. At this point, I believe Shurmur has a better chance of saving his job (with 3 wins) than Heckert, whose work is done.
Hey Tony: Tom Heckert has built a good young team on the rise, and he did it through the draft. Heckert has given long suffering Browns fans hope for better times ahead. Joe Banner has publicly stated that the way to build a winner is through the draft, as Heckert has done. I think that if Joe Banner lets Heckert go then Banner will be the most hated figure in Cleveland sports since LeBron James or Art Modell. Do you agree with my conclusion?
-- Reg, Westlake, OH
Hey Reg: Heckert has become one of the most popular figures in Cleveland sports of late. The public pressure certainly is cause for Banner and Jimmy Haslam to re-analyze the situation or risk losing a chunk of their built-in fan base.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
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