NFL Free Agency: Cleveland Browns' GM Tom Heckert's 10 Best Free-Agent Signings

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIJuly 31, 2011

NFL Free Agency: Cleveland Browns' GM Tom Heckert's 10 Best Free-Agent Signings

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    Cleveland Browns' GM Tom Heckert has burst into the NFL general manager community through his expert drafting and precise free agency moves.  He has committed himself to building through the draft while filling critical voids with high value, low income free agents.

    Addition through subtraction.

    With all of the high visibility and speculation that the 2011 NFL free agency period has garnered, many are disappointed and underwhelmed at the Browns' management's willingness to take risks.  However, Browns fans, take a breather and focus on the quality of the moves being made.  Also, look back over the next 10 slides and see that all the moves Heckert has made, largely flew under the radar at the time, but benefited in the long run.

    In order to understand Mr. Heckert's thinking, let's take a look at the 10 best free agent signings during his tenure as Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns General Manager.

    Make sure to keep in mind that a top free agent signing is ranked in order of cost versus impact.  An overpaid signing that spends most of his time on the medical report, depending on overall production will slide in this ranking.

Honorable Mentions

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    Some of the following names were decent enough acquisitions but just fell short of making the final top 10 list:

    1. Jake Delhomme, QB

    Just kidding!

    2. Brandon Jackson, RB

    Jackson would likely be on this list, however the jury is out on his role and performance in Cleveland.

    3. Usama Young, FS

    See #2, Brandon Jackson explanation.

    4. Jevon Kearse, DE

    Following the signing of Kearse 2004, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.  His season was not an all-pro performance but there is no denying he was an upgrade for the Eagles pass rush.

    Kearse does not make the list because Tom Heckert was involved in the acquisition as the director of player personnel in 2004 but was not completely responsible as the Eagles General Manager. 

10. Stacy Andrews, G

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    Andrews was plucked from the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2009 off-season.

    Due to his quality of play and deteriorating skills due to an injury suffered in Cincinnati, he was benched and never lived up to his potential in Philadelphia.

    In 2010, Andrews restructured his contract as a result of the on-field struggles.

    Maybe, Heckert has learned from this experience to be wary of injury risk signings?

9. Tony Pashos, OT

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    From 2007 to 2008, Tony Pashos was a fixture on the offensive line that took that Jaguar team to the playoffs in 2007.

    Following a season ending injury in San Francisco in 2009, Pashos was signed by new General Manager Tom Heckert to fill the void at right offensive tackle left by the retirement of Ryan Tucker.

    Despite another disappointing injury in 2010, Pashos is a very excellent offensive lineman and looks to have a bounce back season in 2011.

8. Chris Clemons, DE

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    Clemons signed 5 year contract in 2008 but was traded to Seattle in 2010 for a fourth round draft pick.

    His role in Philadelphia was primarily that of a depth player and situational pass rusher.  In two seasons with the Eagles, he recorded two sacks and will best be remembered by the thunderous stiff arm he planted on the Dallas Cowboys running back Tashard Choice during a fumble return touchdown in the 2008 NFL playoffs.

7. Kevin Curtis, WR

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    Wide receiver Kevin Curtis was signed to a six year, 32 million dollar contract in 2007.  Heckert saw something in Curtis that paid off in 2007 as Curtis had a career year nabbing six touchdowns and hauling in over 1,100 yards receiving.  Injuries stunted his continued efficiency and play in Philadelphia and he was released in 2010 after sitting out most of 2009 following arthroscopic knee surgery early in the season.

6. Leonard Weaver, FB

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    In the 2009 off-season, Weaver was scooped up by the Philadelphia Eagles and signed to a 1.75 million dollar, 1 year contract.  Due to injuries to Brian Westrbook and other Eagles running backs, Weaver took on an expanded role as the primary ball carrier for some of the 2009-10 season.  He recorded a remarkable 4.6 yards per carry average, adding two touchdowns rushing and two receiving on his way to his first pro bowl.

    During the 2010 off-season, Weaver was re-signed to a three year-11 million dollar contract, making him the highest paid fullback in NFL history.

    Unfortunately, during his first carry of the 2010 season, Weaver tore his ACL and was was placed on the injured reserve for the rest of the season.  In the off-season, the Eagles cut him from the roster.

5. Scott Fujita, LB

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    Scott Fujita was a cornerstone in the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl defense a year prior to his signing with the Cleveland Browns.  He instantly became the leader of Browns defense, a unit that saw immediate results of his high work ethic and motivational play on the field.

    Through 9 games, Fujita was the second leading tackler on the Browns defense with 52 tackles.  He also contributed 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception to the unit.  Due to an injury after week 9, Fujita did not return.

    Look for the defensive captain to have a bounce back season in 2011.

4. Jeff Garcia, QB

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    In 8 starts with the Eagles, Garcia was 116 of 188 passing for a 61.7% completion rate.  He threw for 1,309 yards with 10 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.  These numbers were good enough for a respectable 95.8 quarterback passer rating.

    More notably, he filled in the final six games of the regular season following a season ending injury to Donovan McNabb.  Not only did he lead the Eagles to the playoffs with five consecutive victories, the Eagles also won their first round playoff match-up versus the Eagles divisional rival the New York Giants. A week later, Garcia's tremendous run ended as the Eagles fell to the New Orleans Saints 24-21.  Garcia played exceptional again in the loss, and completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth, the longest pass in Eagles post-season history.

    The following season, Eagles management/Tom Heckert re-signed backup quarterback A.J. Feeley to a three year contract and let Jeff Garcia enter the free agency market.

3. Ben Watson, TE

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    Tight end Ben Watson was a reliable target for Tom Brady in New England's pass happy offense for the first 6 years of his career.  His numbers, perhaps, were dwarfed by the volume of adequate pass catchers in that offense.  However, upon coming to the Browns in 2010, he led the team in receptions with 65 and recorded over 750 yards receiving.  Those numbers were also good enough for sixth in the NFL at the tight end position.   He was by far one of the brightest spots of the putrid Browns passing game over the last three seasons.

2. Asante Samuel, CB

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    When looking at this signing it is a bit out of character for Tom Heckert at first glance.  However, if you look at the level of production from Samuel while in Philadelphia: 20 interceptions and 57 pass deflections in 3 seasons.

    You immediately forget all about trend and pattern analysis.

    Tom Heckert and Andy Reid went out and got themselves one of the best cover corners in the NFL.  The only knock on Samuel is his willingness as a tackler and in run defense support.

1. Mike Vick, QB

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    The ultimate redemption story.  Andy Reid and Tom Heckert decided to take a gamble on the fresh out of prison ex-convict, Mike Vick, and it paid off tenfold.

    Serving the 2009 season in a support role to Donovan McNabb, Vick learned the Eagles system and adapted back to NFL life.  After an injury to Kevin Kolb in 2010, Vick blast back onto the NFL scene with a Pro Bowl caliber season.

    In his resurgent comeback season, the redeemed Vick put together a masterpiece of quarterbacking that will be remembered as one of the great comeback stores in NFL history.  In 12 games, Vick threw for over 3,000 yards and connected on 21 touchdowns while only losing 6 passes to opposing defenses.  His 62.2% completion percentage is a career best, debunking many criticisms that he was not an accurate passer.  He also ran for 676 yards and 9 touchdowns!