Cleveland Browns: Why the Team Must Keep Tom Heckert

Wes StueveContributor IIIDecember 9, 2012

As the Cleveland Browns blew out the Kansas City Chiefs 30-3 on Sunday, one thing was clear.

Tom Heckert is doing something right.

When Mike Holmgren was brought in by former Browns' owner Randy Lerner in 2009, one of the first things he did was hire Heckert away from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was the general manager under Andy Reid. Since then, Heckert has been the man in charge of Cleveland's roster.

With three offseasons in Cleveland behind him, Heckert has completely revamped the Browns' roster, undoing much of the damage inflicted by Eric Mangini in his brief time with the team. 

Now, though, Heckert's job appears to be on the line, based on comments from new team CEO Joe Banner and media reports. There have even been rumors of Mike Lombardi coming to Cleveland as Heckert's replacement.

Any change (especially one involving Lombardi), though, would be ill-advised at best and a terrible start to owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner's regime in Cleveland. A quick look at the Browns' roster shows why.

Sixteen of Cleveland's 22 starters were brought in by Heckert, 11 through the draft. You may recognize some of the names: Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward. 

Essentially, the entire Browns' team was brought in by Heckert in just three years. But has he actually improved the team, you ask? After all, if those players are all terrible, then Heckert hasn't done much of value, right?

When Heckert took over, Cleveland had Brady Quinn at quarterback, Jerome Harrison at running back and Mohamed Massaquoi at wide receiver. These were the Browns' offensive "weapons." The team's defense wasn't much better.

There wasn't a slower or less talented team in the NFL.

That can no longer be said.

Now, on offense, the Browns have Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Travis Benjamin and Jordan Cameron, all with tons of potential. Only Cameron doesn't see extensive action.

Oh, and Weeden is the only one of them older than 24.

Where before the Browns' offense lacked anything resembling a playmaker, it is now full of them. There are few offenses as young with more upside.

Not all of these pickups were heralded by the media, either. Josh Gordon is a perfect example of this.

In the 2012 supplemental draft, Heckert took a chance on Gordon, who was talented but had been in trouble and needed plenty of work on the field. Many at the time called Gordon overrated.

No one is saying that now, as Gordon leads all rookies with 732 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

Many criticized the selection of Weeden in the first round, as well. His stats aren't great, but Weeden has shown plenty of promise.

On defense, the Browns have holes, but they are decent. There is talent across the unit, from Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard on the defensive line to Joe Haden and T.J. Ward in the secondary.

Over his time with the Browns, Heckert has retained the team's top talent, re-signing Joe Thomas, D'Qwell Jackson and Ahtyba Rubin. More importantly, though, he's added a lot more talent.

Right now, the Browns are 5-8, having gone 5-3 after an 0-5 start. The team is young and has talent on both sides of the ball.

Is the team arrived? No, and to even try making that argument would be foolish. But this three-game win streak is just a peak at what this Browns team could be capable of in a few years.

Heckert has Cleveland on the right track. He has added a plethora of talent over the last three years, transforming a talentless team to one full of upside. All the major pieces are in place.

The team is still a work in progress, but to start over would only delay winning in a city that has had enough change and losing over the last 13 years.