BEREA: With free agency on the horizon, General Manager Tom Heckert lowered expectations for anyone hoping the Browns would take the NFL by storm with a sexy signing.
After undergoing heart surgery a few weeks ago, Heckert emerged to remind the masses that the Browns are committed to building their franchise through the draft.
“We’re not going to go crazy in free agency,” Heckert said Thursday, speaking to the media at the team’s headquarters for the first time since Jan. 5. “We’re not going to do it. Are there guys that we’re targeting? Certainly. Now are we going to get them? That remains to be seen.”
Heckert reiterated a key point he made in his previous meeting with reporters: It’s doubtful the Browns will acquire a big-name, free-agent quarterback.
That means Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn, who’s scheduled to hit the open market when free agency begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, probably won’t land in Cleveland. And Browns fans with Peyton Manning on their wish lists can cross off his name.
Manning never seemed like a realistic candidate to join the Browns, though he’s free to sign with any team at anytime after being released Wednesday by the Indianapolis Colts.
“Where we’re at and where he’s at, to be honest, we have not talked to him or anything,” Heckert said. “No, that’s probably not a direction we’re going in.”
The Browns expect to have plenty of space to work with under the salary cap, which has yet to be set, Heckert said. But instead of making a big splash in free agency, they’re more likely to target lesser-known players who can help the organization satisfy some of its needs before the draft begins April 26.
Heckert mentioned his past signings of linebacker Scott Fujita and cornerback Dimitri Patterson when explaining the caliber of players he expects to pursue.
“There’s definitely guys that can help you,” Heckert said. “It’s just I think — and I’m just spurting this out which I think is probably true though — more guys like that probably help you than a $10 million a year guy.
“I know Green Bay didn’t sign one free agent when they won [the Super Bowl] two years ago. I don’t think the [New York] Giants signed anybody, or at least anybody you’ve ever heard of as a free agent. You don’t win football games by signing a bunch of free agents.
“Now can they help you? Certainly. And if there’s guys that we think can help us, we’ll definitely do it. But it’s easier said than done. Obviously there’s a few guys that 31 other teams are interested in as well. We’re competing against some other teams, so if we get them, it would be great. But let’s say we don’t get the guys we want, we’re not going to say, ‘Oh no, we didn’t get these guys, so we have to go sign three other guys just to sign them.’ I think that’s the wrong way to do it.”
The Browns certainly could use reinforcements at several positions. Quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, running back, right defensive end, outside linebacker, cornerback and free safety are among them.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think there’s any position on our team that we don’t need to improve,” Heckert said. “I think we’re OK in some areas. Are we OK at receiver? I think we’re OK, but I think we can get better. On the offensive line, I think we’re OK. I think we’re OK in a lot of areas, but that’s not ideal. We obviously want to be good everywhere.”
The Browns might be able to trim their list of needs by re-signing some players who are on the verge of becoming unrestricted free agents. Of course, running back Peyton Hillis is the most notable one in the group.
“If we can work things out, he’d like to be here,” Heckert said. “And if we can do it, we’d like him to be here. Whether he has to wait till he sees what happens in free agency, that’s fine with us. We’re willing to do that. We’ll just have to wait and see how things go, probably after Tuesday.”
Heckert also said the Browns would like to retain Patterson and free safety Mike Adams.
“We know we’re not going to be able to sign everybody back,” Heckert said. “We know that. A couple guys are just, I think are in the mode where they just want to wait till free agency and see what happens. We’re fine with that. It’s obviously not a dire situation, but we’re going to have to know sooner or later.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.