BEREA: Twice in the past three years, the Browns traded down in the first round of the draft.
That trend has frustrated at least one season-ticket holder, who emailed a beat reporter recently and said if it happened again in 2012, he was through with the team he loves.
When that message was relayed to General Manager Tom Heckert on Thursday, Heckert’s reaction might not bode well for the disgruntled fan’s renewal.
“Geez. Now that’s pressure there,” Heckert said.
Heckert has traded down in the first round once in his two drafts, the other coming during the regime of former coach Eric Mangini. In 2009, Mangini slid from No. 5 to No. 21 in deals with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles before nabbing Cal center Alex Mack at No. 21.
Heckert’s trade was more of a blockbuster. He gave the sixth overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons last April, allowing the Falcons to select receiver Julio Jones. The Browns got the Falcons’ first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2011 and its first- and fourth-rounders in 2012. (Heckert later traded the 27th overall pick and the Browns’ third-rounder to the Kansas City Chiefs to take Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor at No. 21.) The picks from the Falcons brought receiver Greg Little to the Browns in the second round and fullback Owen Marecic in the fourth round.
Heckert clearly loves to stockpile picks, especially with the number of holes he has to fill as the Browns rebuild.
“If I could have all these picks every year it would be great,” Heckert said of the Browns’ stash, currently at nine.
Now that the Browns hold the fourth selection in the April 26-28 draft, along with the Falcons’ first-rounder (which won’t be decided until they’re eliminated from the playoffs), Heckert has leverage to wheel and deal. President Mike Holmgren called Heckert “my car salesman friend” in their season-ending press conference.
If Heckert doesn’t want to spend the fourth pick on a quarterback or on Alabama running back Trent Richardson, another trade down isn’t out of the question.
Could they go defense?
Fans shouldn’t get their hearts set on an offensive player, either, even though the Browns’ offense finished the season ranked 29th in the league and 30th in points per game. Of the players tabbed as top 10 choices by ESPN’s Todd McShay, there are two quarterbacks, three left tackles, two cornerbacks and one running back, defensive end and wide receiver. The big board of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is nearly identical, with a linebacker replacing a cornerback.
The Browns selecting a successor to five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas seems years away. If they decide to stay at No. 4, the Browns could consider LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Claiborne, the best cover corner in college football, or Kirkpatrick, who is 6-foot-2 and an exceptional tackler, would be perfect to pair opposite Joe Haden. More candidates could enter the picture after the Jan. 28 Senior Bowl and NFL combine Feb. 22-28.
Heckert and his scouts won’t be as smitten as fans by Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon’s three-touchdown game against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Blackmon is listed as 6-foot-1 and doesn’t have elite speed, but could be the target if the Browns trade down.
Still in denial
The biggest disappointment in Thursday’s 70-minute news conference was the Browns’ glossing over their weakness at wide receiver. Perhaps it came from a reluctance to rip the departed (with Brian Robiskie finishing the season on injured reserve in Jacksonville) or devalue possible trade bait (Mohamed Massaquoi, anyone?).
But Holmgren and Heckert didn’t seem nearly as distressed about the state of the position as fans and members of the media.
“Do we think we have a pretty good group of wide receivers? Yeah. Did we drop too many passes? Absolutely,” Holmgren said. “But I think we see some things we can build on.” The only receiver he mentioned was rookie Greg Little.
Heckert said during his nine seasons in Philadelphia, the Eagles had only one year when they had a No. 1 receiver, Terrell Owens. He didn’t mention that was in 2004, when the Eagles reached their last Super Bowl and Owens caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. Playing on a broken leg, Owens caught nine passes for 122 yards in a 24-21 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.
“We spread the ball out, we had guys catching 50, 60 [passes]. We didn’t have a true No. 1 and we won a lot of football games,” Heckert said of his tenure with the Eagles. “We’d like to have three really good receivers and we’ll be in good shape.”
I’ll give them Little, but they need at least two more play makers to go along with Josh Cribbs, who turns 29 in June.
Combative in a Dec. 14 news conference that centered on the Browns’ mishandling of quarterback Colt McCoy’s concussion, Holmgren kept his temper in check during the season-ender. But he did take the loyalty of Browns fans for granted.
The team is 9-23 in his two seasons in charge, but Holmgren said the Browns are “hanging in there” in terms of season-ticket sales and that some who have not renewed have been replaced. That’s most likely in the Dawg Pound, which does not carry personal seat licenses.
“I meet people on the street or in the market and … they don’t like it, they are frustrated, they have a suggestion as to how to do it better, but they are not leaving,” Holmgren said. “I suspect that our fans are going to be there for us.
“The people in this area, this state and the Browns Backers all over the country love this football team. I suspect they have been through a lot already, to wait another year or two, they will hang in there.”
The Browns are the least rewarding of the city’s three professional teams in terms of perks and discounts offered to season-ticket holders. They have included a Browns cap or coupons for concession discounts in the ticket mailing. One area fan who has held them since 1982 (with PSLs) was invited onto the field to watch pre-game warm-ups for the first time this season.
So much for adapting
Holmgren seemed to take a hard line on adjusting the Browns’ West Coast offense to fit the skill set of his quarterback. That was evident in 2011 with McCoy, who looked much more comfortable when he was allowed to operate out of the shotgun or run the two-minute drill. Holmgren presumably ruled out tinkering with the scheme he won with in Green Bay and Seattle if the Browns draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“I don’t think you want to do that,” Holmgren said. “We’ve seen it this year with Denver and Tim Tebow. They had to change their whole offensive thing. You don’t see teams in our league going to that [spread] system that most teams run in college, and I don’t think you ever would. In 25 years we’ll know, but I don’t think it will go that way. If he’s going to play quarterback for you, maybe he can run and all of that stuff, but you have to be able to throw the ball.”
I thought it was the coach’s job to figure out what his players do best. Holmgren’s statement makes the Browns sound reluctant to embrace change. Even though he coached the mobile Steve Young in San Francisco from 1987-91, Holmgren seems to feel that in the “bigger, stronger, faster” NFL, the lifespan of a running quarterback is shorter than ever.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://marla.ohio.com/. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MarlaRidenour. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.