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Hey Tony!

Aug 04, 2012 -- 5:47pm

By Tony Grossi


It’s good that I ended my self-imposed moratorium on Browns uniform questions upon joining the ESPNCleveland team in March. Uniforms again are the hot topic in the wake of the news of Jimmy Haslam purchasing the Browns. In response to a question from me about the prospect of new uniform designs, Haslam pointedly remarked, “We live in a marketing world.” The implication is that, yes, a uniform change is possible down the road. Much of this week’s Hey Tony inbox dealt with GM Tom Heckert’s future. Readers here are unanimous in pleading with Haslam not to blow up football operations.

Hey Tony: Will they retire the "AL" from the uniform sleeves as early as this season?  That has always seemed haunting in some weird way.

-- Ryan, Massillon, OH

Hey Ryan: It was the Lerner family’s plan to honor the memory of Al Lerner with the AL patch for 10 years after his death. The family planned to retire the patch after the 2012 season. I am sure that wish will be honored by the Haslam family.

Hey Tony: I think it's ironic that after dodging endless uniform questions (at your former place of employment), one of the first questions you ask the new owner is related to a possible change in the uniforms! Do you sense a drastic change is on the horizon to try and capture the attention of a younger generation?

-- Ray, Medina, OH

Hey Ray: I’m well aware the passion that Browns fans have for their uniform. I believe that, over time, Jimmy Haslam will explore new ideas for the uniform. Nothing too drastic, but something to reflect the new energy he brings to the franchise. Haslam told me that he may enlist the help of focus groups to help him decide the future of the uniform style.

Hey Tony: In consummating his purchase of the Cleveland Browns, Jimmy Haslam III must sell his interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers. As has been reported, Haslam's family, including his brother and father, also have an ownership interest in the Steelers. It hasn't been clear whether the Haslams will all sell their ownership stakes in the Steelers, and in fact, it appears that the Haslams, other than Jimmy Haslam III, will continue to be minority shareholders of the Steelers. Is this actually the case, and does the NFL permit a family to have a controlling interest in 1 team while holding a minority interest in another team? Thank you for your continuing hard work!

 -- Tom, Las Vegas, NV

Hey Tom: Haslam was the only member of his family who invested in the Steelers. He owned a 12 ½ percent stake. That ownership already is in the process of being sold for him to comply with NFL ownership rules.

Hey Tony: With new ownership in place, I wonder about change in the front office. I have no feelings one way or the other on Mike Holmgren. If he were to retain his job, fine. If he were to be replaced, fine as well. The one I do care about is Tom Heckert. I truly believe he deserves to stay on as GM, as he done a great job building this team. What is your assessment of his job so far? Do you believe he'll be kept around by Haslam or will he want to put his own people in place?

-- Matthew Yoder, Newark, DE

Hey Matthew: Much like coach Pat Shurmur, I believe Heckert’s fate is dependent on the won-loss record in 2012. If the Browns surprise the masses and have a good year, I believe both will be back. Another double-digit loss season would seal the departure of both men. Holmgren, I believe, will not be back.

Hey Tony: Statements abound that Browns fans should expect Cleveland Browns Stadium naming rights to be sold in the quest for maximum profits by the new ownership. I thought the stadium was owned by the city of Cleveland, and the Browns organization had a “sweetheart” leasing deal wherein they paid a below-market leasing fee each year. If this is the case, would it not be the city of Cleveland’s decision to sell naming rights, and not ownership? Am I mistaken?  Whether I am correct or not, how do you anticipate the naming-rights scenario will most likely play out? Thanks for all the great coverage.

-- Kevin Ryan, Toledo, OH

Hey Kevin: You’re wrong. The lease permits the owner of the team to sell stadium naming rights. I believe a naming rights deal could net Haslam anywhere from $100 million to $200 million over a 15-to-20-year period.

Hey Tony: Is it possible that Randy Lerner, knowing he was in the process of soliciting bids for the Browns, put the clamps on Tom Heckert as far as free agency? Perhaps he didn’t feel inclined to pay out millions in up-front signing bonuses? 

-- Josh, South Euclid

Hey Josh: That’s possible, I suppose. But Heckert isn’t a fan of free agency, anyway. I do believe that the possibility of Lerner selling the team existed at the outset of free agency. The fact is, however, that the Browns pursued receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, but were outbid by the Washington Redskins.

Hey Tony: Everyone, at least in the national media, seems to be discounting the Browns wr's because they are young. The better question, it seems to me, is whether they are better than last year's group. We know how bad that was. After reading your column from this week about the fade pattern possibility, as well as the other notes about Travis Benjamin, Jordan Cameron, etc, I am encouraged that the team may be able to score some intentional touchdowns this year. What say you, how much better does this wr/te corps look than last year?

-- David, Joelton, TN

Hey David: I believe the new receivers – Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper – all will make the team. That means three receivers from last year won’t make the team. So, the position is being improved. Gordon has a chance to be a special player.

Hey Tony: Do you feel vindicated now that "spineless" Randy Lerner has sold the team?

-- Stan, Atlanta, GA

Hey Stan:  Actually, I feel the Lerner family did Cleveland a great service by selling the franchise to Haslam. It’s an exciting time.

Hey Tony: Just heard you on 850 talking about the sale of the Browns. I may not shed tears for Mike Holmgren, but I may shed a tear if the sale means the departure of Tom Heckert. My question to you is Tom Heckert worth shedding a tear over? It seems to me he has infused this roster with a TON of talent. In 3 years he has replaced half of the starting offense and defense and has essentially rid the Browns of the stench of the Mangini era minus a few players. Is Tom Heckert as good as I perceive him to be, or is he culpable for the poor record and not as good as I perceive him to be.

-- John, Dayton, OH

Hey John: Heckert has done a good job, particularly in this last transaction season. Ultimately, though, he will be judged by wins and losses. It’s time for his team to win, even though it is loaded with rookies.

Hey Tony: With rumors of Joe Banner being brought in, is it possible that Holmgren can still run the football side of things while Banner is more on the business side (stadium, sales, etc.)?

-- Phil, Vienna, OH

Hey Phil: No, I don’t believe the organization is big enough for Banner and Holmgren.

Hey Tony: I heard on your interview with The Really Big Show that you speculated that Mike Holmgren found out after the draft about the potential sale of the team. Do you think that is one of the reason they spent a second round pick on Josh Gordon because Tom (Heckert) wanted to get him and he knew that he may not be with the team for the next draft?  Then they could take a WR and get the fans off of their backs about not getting a WR in Cleveland.

-- Jason Baker, Liberty Township, OH

Hey Jason: It’s logical to draw that conclusion, but my hunch is that Heckert was told to do his job as if nothing had changed. Heckert loved Gordon’s talent and wouldn’t have made the bold move if he didn’t believe in him.

Hey Tony: Would love to hear your thoughts on the strange circumstances surrounding the sale of the Browns. Why wasn't the team put out for a public bid? Did the NFL know about the 10-year Lerner sale restriction?  Did the NFL stage the sale? The league again seems indifferent/out-of-touch with what Cleveland fans want, namely a local ownership group that cares and understands the team's rich history.

-- Dan Danello, Washington, DC

Hey Dan: 1. Lerner is not obligated to put the team out for public bid. There are ways of finding potential buyers through investment firms to keep it as confidential as possible. 2. It’s possible the league was aware of the Lerner family’s self-imposed moratorium on selling the club until 10 years had passed after Mr. Lerner’s death. 3. I think the league assisted in marrying Lerner to Jimmy Haslam when Lerner made it known he wished to sell. The league has a high opinion of Haslam and wanted him to be a majority owner and investor in the NFL. 4. Contrary to the majority opinion of Browns fans still outraged with the move of the old franchise, I believe the NFL has taken special care in trying to heal the scars in this market. Perhaps that is why it took a behind-the-scenes role in trying to situate Haslam here; the league feels he is an exemplary owner candidate. What’s not to like about new money and new ideas being invested in Cleveland (see: Dan Gilbert)? Besides, you know of any billionaires still left in Cleveland?

Hey Tony: What is the rationale for the way the schedule is set up in recent years? For example, this year we are done playing both Cincinnati and Baltimore before we play Pittsburgh even once. In the past, if I remember correctly, we normally played everyone once in our division before playing a division opponent a second time. Last year, the NFL said they wanted meaningful end-of-season games, so there were more in-division games during December. This year there is only one and that is the last game against Pittsburgh. Ah, yes, it would be nice, to be battling the Steelers for the division that game. But doesn't it seem peculiar to you that we are done playing the Ravens and Bengals before we face the Steelers even once?

-- Erol Altug, Stony Brook, NY

Hey Erol: There are so many logistical factors that go into making the NFL schedule that, inordinately, every team has its beefs when it is announced.

Hey Tony: Phenomenal article published on July 27 -- the piece on comparing this camp’s feel to that of 1985. Can’t help but get excited after reading something like that. While I’d rather focus on our promising rookies on the field, I wanted to get your take on the implications of the anticipated management change after transition of power is shifted from the Lerner to the Haslam administration.  If Holmgren needs to gracefully exit for legitimate “control” reasons, I can understand that. But how could potential new President Joe Banner rationalize replacing current General Manager Tom Heckert? Working with virtually no existing talent when he took over, Heckert has selected at least 12 projected starters for this year’s team and is undeniably the best eye for talent of this current brass. I realize you hate “doomsday scenario” speculation, but at the very least, can we objectively identify Heckert as a very talented, proven NFL GM, whom the Browns should certainly retain?

-- Dan Lind, New York, NY

Hey Dan: While Holmgren’s exit seems taken for granted – does a team need two presidents? –  it’s premature to assume Heckert will be shown the door, too. I think Heckert has had his best transaction season yet. Keeping him in place would maintain continuity in football operations, which I think is important at this stage of the team’s development.

Hey Tony: So Jayme Mitchell was pathetic against the run? Interesting, Eric Mangini was widely criticized by you and others for not playing him. Looks like he was right. Care to apologize?

-- Mike, Dover, OH

Hey Mike: Good grief. Column stopper.

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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