Ward over Mays a Good Sign

Heckert's decision to draft relative unknown may be sign of good things to come

Nnamdi Asomugha signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Chad Ochocinco was traded with the New England Patriots.

Kevin Kolb was traded to the Arizona Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns have been relatively quiet. Free agent signings of running back Brandon Jackson and safety Usama Young, a bungled trade for a defensive lineman with the Eagles and a trade for an offensive guard, John Greco, highlights the Browns' shortened offseason moves.

Not exactly high-five educing moves. As a result, the Browns and general manager Tom Heckert has drawn some ire from fans. Why are the Browns simply watching everyone else pass them by? After going 10-6 in 2007, the Browns are 14-34 the last three seasons. Moves need to be made. The roster needs to improve.

No kidding.

Sadly, the Browns are in their umpteenth rebuild. Yet, unlike the Dwight Clark, Butch Davis, Eric Mangini or Phil Savage eras, it appears the front office has it together.

What makes this time different? There was something that happened in recent days that shows Heckert may have broke free from the molds of failed GMs past.

At the 2010 NFL Draft, the Browns had the sixth pick of the second round. Although the Browns selected cornerback Joe Haden in the first round, the secondary still needed help and a safety was the target. One pick before Cleveland, the Eagles selected Nate Allen out of South Florida. With the Browns on the clock, the pick seemed to be a no brainer.

USC safety Taylor Mays was a physical freak. A 6-foot-3, 230-pound safety, he was a four-year starter for the Trojans and turned scouts' heads at the NFL Combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash.

But the Browns selected Oregon safety T.J. Ward.

To paraphrase Browns fans that evening, "Who?!?!"

By mid-September, Browns fans were well acquainted with Ward. He started all 16 games last season, recorded 123 tackles, two interceptions and had one knock-out hit on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

On Aug. 4, news broke on ESPN that the San Francisco 49ers, who selected Mays with the 49th overall pick, were looking to trade him. Mays started six games with the 49ers last season, but while he is physically imposing, he simply does not possess good football instincts.

Meanwhile, Ward is showing improved pass coverage skills early in camp to go along with his ability to play the run.

Did the Browns get lucky? Or – finally – does the organization have a general manger in place who has a good eye for professional football players?

The Ward-over-Mays example is not the end-all to determine if Heckert is a good general manager. But perspective is needed. Heckert also appeared to hit a home run with his first-round pick in Haden (six interceptions). The Browns and first-round picks haven't exactly been a successful relationship since 1999.

When it comes to free agency, the Browns have been quiet. The reality is the team is not a few big-named, high-price signings away from winning AFC North titles. It's a word that Browns fans now cringe at its sight, but it is another "rebuilding" process.

Although it appears as if the Browns haven't added much talent, they did rid the roster of age. They are going young. They are trying to find current players to match the new West Coast style of offense and 4-3 scheme on defense.

That will take time. Adding a big-name player to the secondary or wide receiver position is simply a quick fix. The Browns are building for stability year-in and year-out. If the decisions like drafting Ward over Mays continue, the franchise – and its fans – will find itself in a promising position for many years to come.

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