April 17, 2014

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Browns GM Tom Heckert: Rookies deserved their spots on roster

BEREA — Browns general manager Tom Heckert admits keeping 15 rookies on a 53-man roster might not be the smartest move for his job security.

However, he is adamant that it is the best move for the team.

“It could come back and bite me in the butt,” Heckert said. “But we told (outgoing owner Randy Lerner) when we came in, ‘Hey, we’re going to do things the right way.’ Whatever happens happens.

“Keeping 15 rookies was obviously nothing we planned, but we want to give the best 53 guys those spots, no matter at what position. It worked out that way, and we’ll see how it goes.”

The third-year GM made those comments Saturday as he met with the media for the first time since Cleveland reduced its roster to the NFL regular-season limit.

Heckert said he has been keeping incoming Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III in the loop about all transactions, but is not taking any instructions from the Tennessee billionaire until the franchise’s sale is formally approved by the league in mid-October.

“Right now, he’s not the owner, but do I talk to him about stuff? Yeah,” Heckert said. “But no, he’s never said, ‘We should do something.’

“And actually, the other night after the (final preseason) game, I talked to Randy, as well. We’re making sure everyone understands what we’re trying to do here.”

That includes Cleveland’s quarterback situation, which came to a head the previous night when veteran Seneca Wallace had his contract terminated, meaning former starter Colt McCoy will back up rookie Brandon Weeden. Thaddeus Lewis made the squad as the third QB.

Though Heckert has the contractual power to decide the final 53, he said coach Pat Shurmur made the final call on keeping McCoy over Wallace.

“Obviously, none of the quarterbacks played very well in the last preseason game (a 28-20 loss to the Bears), but we were at a point in the road where we had to make a decision,” Heckert said. “It’s Pat’s call there, and he made it. I think we’re pretty set there. You never say never, but we’re pretty happy with that position right now.”

The son of longtime NFL executive Tom Heckert Sr. added that there was no truth to rumors out of Philadelphia that the Browns were interested in signing ex-Eagles quarterback A.J. Feeley.

“A.J. is one of my good friends, but I haven’t talked to him in months,” Heckert said, chuckling. “I have no idea where that came from.”

Heckert touched on a number of other subjects during the session, many of which centered on Cleveland’s Sept. 9 opener against Philadelphia. The highlights were:

• Keeping four running backs in rookie Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya, which is one more than most NFL teams.

“We’ve talked about all of them at different times, so you guys know we like them all. They bring different things to the table, and all of them have responded when we’ve given them the chance, including Obi, who did a lot of nice things for us last season when we had him in there. We like those four guys, so we wanted to keep them.”

• The Browns still have not heard anything from commissioner Roger Goodell about a possible suspension for cornerback Joe Haden, who reportedly tested positive for the attention deficit disorder treatment Adderall during the offseason.

“I couldn’t tell you if I did, but we haven’t. I don’t know anything. I really don’t.”

• Lewis making the squad, despite never appearing in a regular-season game, over a seasoned veteran in Wallace.

“Thad is a young guy that we liked, so if something happens in a year or two, we like Thad and we’d like to have him around and see how he develops.”

• Trading safety David Sims to the Eagles for a conditional draft choice, even though Philadelphia starts the regular season in Cleveland.

“In a perfect world, you’re not (doing it), but they 90 percent would have gotten him anyway with the way it worked (off waivers).”

• Cutting tight end Evan Moore just 11 months into the three-year contract extension he signed last September.

“We had way different personnel when we did that (contract). I like Evan a lot and I think he’s got some value to a team, but you’re not going to play four tight ends unless one of them plays a lot on special teams, which he doesn’t.”

• The need for improved special teams play, which became a pressing concern when Browns punter Reggie Hodges was blocked twice during the preseason.

“We have to be better, no doubt, and that’s where the younger guys should help us more because they’re good special teams players. Honestly, I’ll tell you (undrafted rookie) Johnson Bademosi, that’s why he’s here. He was a phenom on special teams this preseason.”

• Selecting wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of the NFL supplemental draft on July 12 had nothing to do with the Browns potentially being sold by Lerner — exponentially increasing the pressure on Heckert and Shurmur to win now.

“It didn’t affect it at all. When the whole (sale talk) thing started, I didn’t even know about it. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I knew or not at the time of that draft, so no, not at all.”

• Having three undrafted rookies make the squad in cornerback Bademosi, safety Tashaun Gipson and linebacker L.J. Fort.

“I don’t look at it as a negative at all. There were some pleasant surprises, just as there are every year.”

• Eagles coach Andy Reid remains one of Heckert’s sounding boards, based on their long tenure together in Philadelphia.

“Andy is one of my best friends. We talk all the time. The best compliment I get is him saying, ‘You guys are way better than when you were before.’ And he’s not someone who would just say that. If he thought we were doing something stupid, he’ll tell me.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.