By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
–GM Tom Heckert is an extremely busy guy. He and the rest of the player-personnel staff have been negotiating with players on multiple fronts. Heckert said the team has 23 undrafted free agents who should have their signatures on contracts by Wednesday. That’s a clear indication of how ready the Browns were to strike once the lockout ended on Monday. Heckert didn’t reveal any names, and it’s hard to gauge from league-wide/social-media buzz whether any of them would jump out at most fans. Could there be a hidden gem somewhere? We’ll see.
–Heckert is sticking with his stance that the Browns are “not going to go crazy in free agency.” He said it wasn’t necessarily because of an unwillingness to spend big, but rather a reflection of the club’s core strategy for acquiring talent. “I think (team president Mike) Holmgren said it last night (on the debut of “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven By Liberty Ford”) that our philosophy is to build through the draft,” Heckert said. “We were an older team last year and we have to get younger. We know that, and obviously, through the draft, that’s how you do that. There are certain players we’re going to go after, and if we think they can help the Cleveland Browns, we’ll do it. But we’re not going to just go out and spend money just to spend money and say, ‘We need this guy’ or, ‘We need this position.’”
–The Browns are happy with the receivers they have, even if they aren’t accomplished. That might not be music to the ears of the many fans who have been vocal about wanting the team to sign a big-time receiver in free agency. Heckert didn’t rule out the pursuit of a free agent at the position — something that Holmgren mentioned was in the team’s thought process Monday night — but the GM did say, “We do have some young guys that we do like. Carlton Mitchell and Jordan Norwood … obviously we drafted Greg Little, and we do like Robo (Brian Robiskie) and (Mohamed) Massaquoi. We have to wait and see how it pans out, but we don’t want to give up on guys too soon. The offense we run is a receiver-friendly offense, so let’s give them a chance and see what we have.”
–Like probably everyone who does what he does, Heckert doesn’t like the frequent changes in the last 24 hours or so to the process of putting together a 90-man training camp roster in the new collective bargaining agreement. For now, all NFL teams are able to negotiate with all free agents, including their own, but they can’t sign them until the NFLPA recertifies as a union, and that isn’t likely to happen for several more days. Only players already under contract and signed rookies are able to be on the field for non-contact workouts during Friday’s opening of training camp. “It’s not good,” Heckert said. “I’m glad we got a 10-year deal with the CBA because I don’t want to go through this again. It’s interesting, it’s difficult, but it’s the same for everybody. One day you’re getting rules on college free agents, one day you’re getting rules on your rookie pool, when you start training camp, what you can do in practice. It’s done but there are still moving parts to this thing, where everybody’s not exactly sure how to go about things. It’s really going to take some time to get used to.”
–Lead CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms is not all that concerned with the potential for the league’s quality of play to suffer from the loss of offseason workouts. While acknowledging that any team’s early season struggles is likely to prompt immediate conclusions that the lockout was to blame, Simms said an offseason with no coach-supervised practices might actually benefit players because teams often don’t give them enough time off between the end of one season and the start of another. “Now they’ve had a sustained period where they could do some resistance training, running, healing, and probably be healthier overall than they’ve ever been going into a season,” Simms said.
–Cornerback Joe Haden, who was among the several Browns players who reported to the team’s training facility Tuesday, could hardly contain his enthusiasm for being back to work. “It feels like the first day of school,” Haden said. “(Monday) night, I couldn’t even get to sleep.”
–Simms, a Super Bowl MVP quarterback for the New York Giants, sees a significant jump in pressure for Browns second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. “The second year comes, and it’s not new anymore,” Simms said. “And the expectations of the productivity from the fans, the media, everybody’s going to want to see more. So it’s going to be much rougher for everybody involved.”
–Former Browns quarterback Brian Sipe still regrets how his team handled the strike that reduced the 1982 season to nine games, five of which the Browns lost on the way to a third-place finish in the then-AFC Central Division. “I don’t think any of us thought it was going to happen, so I think it caught us a little bit off guard,” Sipe said. “Now I take responsibility for some of that, because being the quarterback and being the leader and having the organization and coaching staff step completely away from us, we could have done a better job of working out and being prepared for the conclusion of that thing.”
–Simms is “curious” to see how the program that Holmgren and the rest of the Browns’ decision-makers put in place last year advances. Said Simms, “I saw a good, solid football team last year, but you know what? I never saw parts that were going to make it a winner. I guess the best way to say it is, you need playmakers to win in the NFL, you need stars. And I know right now the Browns don’t have enough stars.”
–Although he lives in his native Southern California, Sipe still has a great handle on what makes Cleveland sports fans tick. “With all due respect to the Cavaliers and the Indians,” Sipe said, “Cleveland is a Browns town. There was no doubt about that one.”
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