CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – This is where Tom Heckert earns his money – the offseason.
Heckert will spend the next three to four months immersed in medical records, scouting reports and game film as he prepares for the NFL Draft and free agency.
The Cleveland Browns general manager joined Bull and Fox Thursday afternoon on 92.3 The Fan for nearly 30 minutes to look back at the team’s disappointing 4-12 season and look ahead to one of, if not the most critical offseason in franchise history.
Heckert told Adam the Bull and Dustin Fox that the groundwork or basic preparation for the offseason is almost done.
INTERVIEW: Browns GM Tom Heckert on Bull and Fox
“We pretty much have the basic stuff done,” Heckert said. “The free agent stuff is pretty much done. We gave the coaches the list of guys we want them to look at last week and so they’ve started on that.
“We pretty much have a really good idea of who we’re targeting in free agency. Our draft board is almost set but it’s not close to being done yet.”
The search for an offensive coordinator is underway and Heckert confirmed that coach Pat Shurmur has already to reached out to several candidates and he will begin the formal interview process soon.
“Pat has talked to a lot of people but we’ve not brought anybody into the building yet,” Heckert said. “We’ll probably do that in the next few days or for sure next week. There’s no timeline (to hire a coordinator).
“We just want to get the best guy and Pat will find that and we’ll start talking to guys soon.”
As for the offseason and personnel moves to be made, Heckert said that they’ll make decisions on which of their free agents that they want to bring back in the next week or two.
At the top of that list is the Peyton Hillis question. Will he be back and do the Browns want him back?
“We talked to Peyton, it’s still early,” Heckert said. “We haven’t talked to his representative, we haven’t talked to any of our unrestricted free agent guys yet. We will be doing that in the next week or so. We’ll talk to him. Never say never. Would we be adverse to bringing him back? No.
“We just have to see what else is available and what our plans are for all of our free agents.”
Re-signing linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is a priority for Heckert. Kicker Phil Dawson is also a free agent. The Browns hit Dawson with the franchise tag last year and they could do the same this offseason.
Needless to say Hillis isn’t Heckert’s only problem.
“We have Mike Adams, Dimitri Patterson,” Heckert said. “We have a lot of free agents that we’ll decide on whether we’re going to bring them back or not.”
After finishing near the bottom in just about every statistical category and scoring a paltry 218 points last season, the Browns offense is in dire need of a makeover.
The team has not settled on Colt McCoy as their quarterback, Hillis’ future is in doubt, the right side of the offensive line could use an upgrade and they desperately need receivers who can run routes and actually catch the football.
“The more players we get him, the better off he’s going to be and I think there’s no question about that and it’s my job to do that,” Heckert said of McCoy. “Colt had some very good games he really did. I do think that he’s shown enough that he can win football games in this league.
“I think that we can evaluate him and I think that we do. We see enough in Colt and I think he’s got a chance to be a real good player for us.”
But will he remain the starting quarterback in 2012?
“Well, he is right now,” Heckert said. “Him and Seneca, now whether they’re going to get a full offseason together and see who wins, you know we have Thad Lewis as well who is another kid that we really like.
“Right now we have three quarterbacks and right now Colt would be the guy.”
Robert Griffin III officially declared for the draft Wednesday and Heckert was asked if he thought that quarterbacks who play in a spread offense like could adapt to the NFL and working under center.
“I don’t think that’s really a big deal,” Heckert said. “Obviously he’s going to have to learn to take some snaps under center but really all of them do take snaps under center. They’re not in the shotgun every single play. We had the same situation when we evaluated Kevin Kolb.
“Colt played a lot in the gun in college so I think it’s just the way it is and you have to evaluate the best you can but it’s not like they haven’t done it before.”
Cleveland owns three of the top 36 picks in the draft including the fourth and 22nd selections in the first round. Griffin III will be considered but Heckert made it clear he’ll take the best player on the board – regardless of position.
“There’s no question that we’re going to take the best guy,” Heckert said. “If it’s a quarterback or whoever it is, if we think someone is better than him we’re going to take him there’s no question about it.”
The Browns finished the season 0-for-the AFC North. They also lost at least 12 games for the sixth time since 1999. it was a rocky first season for Shurmur, who had his problems managing situations on and off of the field.
However, Heckert disagreed with Adam the Bull’s assessment that Shurmur did a poor job in his first season roaming the Browns sidelines.
“I completely, 100% disagree with that,” Heckert said. “Our players played very very hard. The perception of what everyone sees is not exactly what happened. I think we moved the ball well, we played very good on defense, the team never let down. I just think there was a lot of good things. We weren’t a very penalized team, we didn’t turn the ball over a ton.
“For no offseason, new offense, new defense – I thought he did an outstanding job.”
That said, he admitted that everyone – top to bottom in the organization must improve for the team to take the next step in 2012.
“Obviously we have to win football games and we only won four this year,” Heckert said. “That’s obviously our goal is to get better and we expect everybody to do better.”
The fans are not happy following the 10th 10+ loss season in 13 years. Heckert is aware and feels the same sense of urgency to get it turned around that the paying customers do.
“We understand about them being upset about the season and the losing that’s been going on around here,” Heckert said. “We’re right there with them. We really are. We know we have to improve and we expect us to improve next year.”