BEREA - The media room at the Browns' administrative facility had a surprise visitor Friday when general manager Tom Heckert decided to stop by.
It was an impromptu, casual meeting with reporters that lasted about 20 minutes. It was a surprise because of its suddenness and the fact that Heckert has been low profile since James Haslam assumed ownership in October.
Heckert has become a hot topic of conversation because of the precarious position he's been put in since Haslam's arrival and the arrival of Joe Banner as president. Rumors persist that Banner plans to make a change and bring in another GM, with the name of former Browns executive Mike Lombardi being most often mentioned.
Heckert emphasized that his wishes are to remain in Cleveland and continue the five-year plan he was given by former owner Randy Lerner and former president Mike Holmgren. He said he won't know more about his future until after the season ends.
"There are a lot of things we're going to have to talk about," Heckert said. "Jimmy and Joe have been up front with (coach) Pat (Shurmur) and me both."
Heckert said he was bummed out by the 0-5 start, but he never wavered in his belief that the team was close to turning things around. He now believes the Browns will be a solid contender to win the AFC North Division next season.
"Maybe it sounds bad to say that," Heckert said, "but I honestly believe it."
Heckert is linked to Banner from their almost one decade of working together in the front office of the Philadelphia Eagles. Reports of their working relationship are varied. Some indicate that they didn't get along, while others indicate otherwise.
"Sure, we sit down and talk," Heckert said. "It's been great. No matter what happens, Joe and I are fine."
Heckert has conducted three drafts for the Browns, each of which has shown major contributions to the current state of the roster. Heckert has been praised widely for his work during the last offseason, which added 11 players through the draft and six rookie free agents. Heckert also acquired receiver Josh Gordon by giving up a 2013 second-round draft pick in a supplemental draft.
Heckert wasn't surprised by the slow start because of the expected learning curve of playing so many rookies and first-year players. The experience they've gained is now starting to pay dividends.
"We thought there was a chance we could make the playoffs," Heckert said. "Obviously, you wished it would have happened a little quicker in the season. There were going to be some growing pains. The quarterback, the receivers, but talent-wise and athletic-wise, we saw a lot of things. When is it going to all come together? It's started to."
The Browns have won five of their last eight games and have a 5-8 record going into Sunday's home game against the Washington Redskins.
"You can see the maturity coming into all of these guys," Heckert said. "They're not rookies any more. They're really not. No question, we've gotten better, and our depth is better. You can never say we're there. We're getting closer to where we want to be."
Heckert believes that rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has played well enough to warrant being the starter next season. He admits that running back Trent Richardson's average of 3.5 yards per carry is a concern, but he still believes in the third overall draft pick from Alabama.
"I like Brandon," Heckert said. "I think he's gotten better and better throughout the year. I think he's got everything you want.
"This guy (Richardson) is a tough son of a gun. He's going to be fine. He really is. I'm not concerned about him at all."
Heckert admits that he would be disappointed if he's not back to watch his plan play out in the future. He's clearly appreciative of the outpouring of fan support for his return.
"If I'm not here? It's really going to be disappointing," he said. "But I do get it, and there's a variety of reasons it could happen. I'm OK with it if it doesn't work out. I can't sit around and pout about it."