BEREA: In year three of the Mike Holmgren era, it was time for the Browns’ president to put his stamp on the roster.
He did not hesitate.
It was one thing to complain that the trade that brought the Redskins Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III was born out of the close friendship between St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and Washington coach Mike Shanahan.
It would have been another thing to let it happen again, to let another player the Browns wanted slip through their fingers.
Overseeing an offensive transformation that will likely establish his Browns legacy, Holmgren would not allow General Manager Tom Heckert to stay at No. 4 and hope no one leapfrogged them for the right to draft Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
Holmgren would not allow Heckert to sit at No. 37 and hope the quarterback everyone in the building loved, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, would fall in their laps.
The three-day NFL Draft that concluded Saturday had Holmgren’s fingerprints all over it.
He insisted it was the least input he’d ever had, but that may have been his way of lauding Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur.
“While we had all those meetings, I was kind of watching and smiling and enjoying it,” Holmgren said. “If I was going to suggest something or push it, it happened long before this weekend.”
Without giving specifics, Holmgren described a scenario where he wielded his influence with Heckert, while Shurmur played peacemaker.
“I remembered a discussion, this is typical of what might happen,” Holmgren said. “I said, ‘Tom, do you want to do this?’ He said, ‘I don’t think I do.’ I think it’s too much or too strong or whatever.’ I said, ‘Well, we might have to.’ And he goes, ‘Well, if we have to, then you’ve got to tell me, because I won’t do it.’ And I said, ‘OK, then I might have to tell you. Fine.’ But that’s a healthy way to go about it. No one’s strangling anybody or pushing anybody.”
That could have been what happened with Richardson. Holmgren said the Browns had targeted the player considered the best running back prospect in five years and didn’t want to lose him to a team that traded into the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 3 spot.
“My conversations with Pat and Tom were, ‘If you even think somebody is going to jump us, then what are we going to do to prevent that from happening?’ We had that conversation many, many times,” Holmgren said. “Contrary to what was written, we had to compete. We weren’t the Lone Ranger in that deal.”
Heckert still values draft picks like gold, even though the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the rookie wage scale are starting to make them look more like casino chips. But the Browns sent the Vikings fourth-, fifth- and seventh-rounders to move up one spot to secure Richardson.
“We got a player who’s going to be, Lord willing, a really fine player for us for a long time,” Holmgren said.
Later Thursday night, when most thought the Browns could wait until the second round Friday to nab 28-year-old Weeden, the Browns took him 22nd overall, spurning a chance to fill a huge hole at right tackle with Iowa’s Riley Reiff. That decision was made easier, because the receiver they liked, Baylor’s Kendall Wright, was taken 20th by Tennessee.
“Instead of waiting and rolling the dice a little bit perhaps and seeing another way to go there, we said, ‘Let’s not run the risk,” Holmgren said of Weeden.
Weeden was Heckert’s guy and Shurmur’s guy and owner Randy Lerner’s guy, but above all he is Holmgren’s guy, because Holmgren, who turns 64 in June, won’t be around to pick the next one.
When Holmgren arrived in Berea in January 2010, no one thought it would take this long to find a quarterback. He was the guru who’d worked with hall of famers and Pro Bowlers at every stop. But the Colt McCoy experiment fizzled; now McCoy could be on his way out.
While fans grew increasingly restless as the losing continued, it wasn’t until this winter that they started to direct their frustration at Holmgren. He was criticized for taking Lerner’s millions and giving little in return and for spending time at his home in Phoenix during a crucial offseason. Some wondered if Holmgren was tiring of his front-office role.
With the people’s choice, Richardson, and the front office’s choice, Weeden, Holmgren has made his mark. It appears he was much more involved in drafting both than his self-described role as “devil’s advocate.”
Asked if he felt any sense of mission accomplished with Weeden, Holmgren said he preferred to wait for the victories to come.
“Well, I won’t feel real good about it until it happens,” he said. “We’ll keep looking.”
Let’s hope he doesn’t have to. Holmgren did what he was brought here to do. With his firm guidance in months of meetings, the Browns landed the two players whom he believes will turn their fortunes around.
The strong, credible leader has finally delivered.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.