Aww Heck(ert): Ex-Browns GM Lands On His Feet In Denver
By Steven King
Tom Heckert is back in the NFL again after a 13-week absence.
Out of work since being fired by the Cleveland Browns as general manager on Jan. 31, he has been hired as director of pro personnel by the Denver Broncos. The job is two rungs down on the NFL team hierarchy ladder from general manager. In between is director of player personnel – a title held in Denver by Mark Russell.
So why did Heckert tumble as far as he did?
During his three-season tenure with Cleveland from 2010-12, it should be pointed out that he did some good things, most specifically bringing in a lot of young, talented players such as RB Trent Richardson, CB Joe Haden, S T.J. Ward, G Shaun Lauvao, OL Todd Pinkston, DL Phil Taylor, DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard, RT Mitchell Schwartz and WRs Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin. If he had been able to that level of work in other areas, then Heckert might still be working for the Browns – or at least he might still be a GM elsewhere in the NFL.
But that was not the case. He struggled exceedingly in several crucial areas:
1) For starters, he signed off on Pat Shurmur being hired as coach in 2011. Yes, Shurmur was the hand-picked candidate of former Browns team president Mike Holmgren. “The Big Show” wasn’t going to be dissuaded from his desire to toss a bone to the family of old friend and former coaching colleague Fritz Shurmur posthumously. But by going in with Holmgren on the decision when it was clear Shurmur was neither qualified nor ready to take the job, Heckert allowed his reputation to be tied to an experiment that was doomed to be a disaster from the start.
And it was. Call it guilt by association or being an accessory to a crime. Whatever it was, it was not a shining moment for Heckert.
2) Heckert refused to sign a veteran wide receiver in free agency when at least one was desperately needed to add stability to the position and provide someone to serve as a mentor to all of the young receivers the Browns were acquiring. No matter how hard he tried, Heckert couldn’t explain his decision in a believable way. It was a disservice to the young receivers, QBs Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy – not to mention the offense and team as a whole as well as the fans. Everyone deserved better.
3) And finally – and most importantly – Heckert fumbled the ball in securing for the Browns a sure-fire franchise quarterback. He never seemed to understand how vital the most important position in team sports is or, at the very least, did not go to great-enough lengths to secure one. If a team has a great quarterback, then it has a chance. And if it doesn’t, then it has no chance.
Heckert was perfectly willing in 2012 to go through a second consecutive full season with McCoy as the starter. It wasn’t until former owner Randy Lerner – after looking around the rest of the AFC North and seeing Ben Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco at Baltimore and Andy Dalton at Cincinnati – understandably asked, “Where’s our franchise quarterback?,” Only then did Holmgren go to the draft room and order Heckert to take one, which turned out to be Weeden at No. 22 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
By that point, however, the effort was already botched in that weeks earlier, the Browns made only a half-hearted attempt to trade up with St. Louis to No. 2 overall in that draft in order to land Robert Griffin III. Even though Cleveland had more to offer in a deal, they stood idly by and let the Washington Redskins work out a trade that enabled them to grab the Baylor University standout. It was a real black eye for the Holmgren-Heckert regime; a mistake Cleveland has already paid for and probably one it will continue to pay for in the coming years.
While the Browns enter the post-Heckert era still not sure if they have their franchise QB, the Redskins go into 2013 with one of the most exciting, dynamic and discussed players in the sport in recent memory. It’s a big reason why the Redskins rode Griffin’s coattails to the playoffs last year, and why Cleveland finished 5-11, helping to end Heckert’s stay in Cleveland.
Denver figures to offer Heckert an opportunity to rebuild his executive “credit”, so he can return to being a general manager someday. Too bad he couldn’t do it in Cleveland, where he did such an incomplete job.