In most NFL cities, a week leading up to a game between a 2-10 team and a 4-8 team is usually quiet and mundane.
But no week leading up to a game involving the Cleveland Browns is ever normal, so why should this one be.
The highlights of this week leading up to a rather meaningless game against Kansas City deal with Joe Thomas and Peyton Hillis calling each other out, and with word that Browns GM Tom Heckert might want to stay – provided he receives assurances he will have final say over the roster and draft.
Heckert’s move is not a power play.
He likes Cleveland, likes the Browns, likes the team on the field. He would be happy to stay.
But he merely wants to retain what he has. When Mike Holmgren hired him, he gave Heckert final authority over the roster and draft. Holmgren had input, and because Holmgren hired Heckert and because they had a relationship Holmgren had some influence in some decisions. Too, Holmgren was a Super Bowl winning coach and former GM, so his input was not unwelcome.
Enter Joe Banner, a man hired by new owner Jimmy Haslam and a man widely praised for the way he runs an organization, but not a guy who has worked in personnel.
Heckert merely looks at the situation realistically. He was hired to do a job and judge talent, and he does not want to give up that responsibility, especially to a guy who has not built his career on personnel decisions.
So he seeks – according to several league sources – to continue as the Browns GM with the same authority he has now.
If the Browns want to keep him, the way to do would be to structure a contract under the new regime that allows Heckert final say in personnel and draft matters.
Ultimately, the decision on how this shakes out goes to the owner. And based on fan response and comment, Haslam risks angering the fan base if he lets Heckert go. Fans seem to want him.
Is Heckert irreplaceable? Of course not. If nothing has been proven with the Browns since 1999, it’s that anyone can come and go – and usually does.
But at this point in their life, the Browns badly need some sense of continuity. There have been too many changes, too much starting over. The belief is the team is on the right road, so starting over again would involve yet another re-start.
Heckert could provide some continuity for a team that needs it.
He’s also done a very good job transforming and stocking the roster. It’s gone from old and slow to young and getting fast. He’s not been overly visible to the media, he’s not talking now (though that’s understandable given how sensitive things are) and he’s not developed relationships with many players. And for reasons that are inexplicable he’s not signed Phil Dawson to a long-term deal.
But he’s stocked the roster with a foundation of young talent that should be the foundation for the next few years. Supplement this roster with a Heckert draft that focuses on defense and a couple free agents and who knows what the team looks like in 2013.
But to call it a power play would be to misstate things. It’s simply a guy wanting to continue to do the job he was hired to do with the same understanding for the future he had in the past.
The Thomas-Hillis situation started with Thomas being blunt and honest about what he thought of the way Hillis acted last season when he was with the Browns. That thought can be summed up in two words: Not much.
Kudos to Thomas for being honest and not hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Asked a question, Thomas manned up and answered – and it did not speed up the Mayan timetable.
It’s rare for a player to eviscerate a former teammate or use the word “toxic” when discussing him, but that’s what Thomas did. Justifiably. Clearly if Thomas feels this strong about Hillis this season, the attitude a year ago from the entire line and probably the entire team was worse.
Hillis had to go, which was why he did and why the Browns shrugged when he left as a free agent to play with the Chiefs (how has that worked out, by the way?).
Hillis’ response was to say Thomas sounded like a “crazy ex-girlfriend.”
This is the point where one either chuckles, or rolls his or her eyes.
Hillis is the guy who pulled himself out of a game because of strep, talked about joining the CIA, threw 60-yard passes before a game he missed with a hamstring injury and got married on a day off when he was supposed to be getting treatment for another injury. Hillis is also a guy who made his contract an issue last season at the expense of the team, all fueled by his appearance on the cover of Madden.
Thomas has been nothing but a professional since he joined the team in 2007. He’s started and played in every one of his 92 games, and has been to the Pro Bowl in every one of his five seasons. Earlier this season he played on a knee that probably should have kept him out three or four weeks.
And Hillis is criticizing Thomas for being a crazy ex-girlfriend?
Let’s also not forget that last season Hillis missed a charity event for kids because he was sleeping after returning from a West Coast trip. Hillis blamed his own failure on miscommunication from his management team. Let’s not dance around that particular gaffe: Hillis didn’t show because he chose not to. He was well informed of the event.
This week, Thomas was named winner of the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which is given for community service. It’s the second time Thomas won.
On the one hand, we have a guy who overslept when he was supposed to be greeting kids.
On the other, we have Thomas.