Tom Heckert

Broncos Notes: Heckert, Kelly, Leary

On Monday, the Broncos announced that former personnel executive Tom Heckert has died. Heckert, who also served as the GM of the Eagles and Browns, was widely beloved in the football world. After battling amyloidosis for a lengthy period, Heckert passed away peacefully on Sunday night in the company of his family.

Tom was an integral part of our organization and we’re all incredibly saddened today,” GM John Elway said in a statement. “With his many years of experience and time as a GM, Tom was a tremendous resource and a key member of our team. He was a very good evaluator—He had an eye for talent, and we always trusted his voice. It’s easy to see why Tom was widely respected and had so many great relationships across the league. I’ll always be grateful for how he helped me transition into this position. My prayers go out to Tom’s family, friends and everyone he worked with during his career.”

With Heckert’s memory in mind, here’s more from Denver:

  •  Former Mr. Irrelevant Chad Kelly could wind up as the team’s backup quarterback behind Case Keenum, coach Vance Joseph told reporters on Sunday. For now, former first-round pick Paxton Lynch is taking practice reps with the second-team offense, but it’s a situation to keep an eye on. In theory, if the Broncos feel confident in Kelly’s ability, they could shop Lynch to other teams. Although Lynch hasn’t done a whole lot in his NFL career, he was on the radar of several teams before the Broncos selected him No. 26 overall in 2016, so the Broncos might be able to get something in return for him.
  • This week, Joseph told reporters that Broncos left guard Ronald Leary underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in late May (via Mike Klis of 9News). It appears that Leary is still dealing with some effects of the procedure, and he was held out of Sunday’s scrimmage as a precaution.
  • The Broncos and center Matt Paradis are discussing a new deal.

Top Broncos Executive Stepping Away From Role

A key Broncos executive is stepping away from his front office role. Mike Klis of reports Tom Heckert Jr. is not working with the organization as he focuses on his health. The 50-year-old was diagnosed with a treatable blood disorder back in 2016.

“I’m going to take some time off and not work anywhere for a little while,’’ Heckert told Klis. “The Broncos have been great. They have gone above and beyond during my time there with my health stuff. I’m getting treatment and overall I am doing well.’’

The Broncos will now be left with a huge hole in their front office, as Klis describes Heckert as one of general manager John Elway‘s “top lieutenants.” As Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic tweets, the move will leave former coach Gary Kubiak as the “lone senior personnel advisor” on the staff.

Heckert has been working in the NFL since 1991, when he started working as a pro and college scout. The executive ended up spending 10 years with the organization, eventually rising to the role of director of pro personnel. He eventually moved on to the Eagles organization, where he spent four years as the team’s general manager. The Eagles made the playoffs during three of those four seasons, including a 2008 campaign that saw the team losing in the conference championship. After spending a brief time as the Browns general manager, he eventually joined the Broncos staff back in 2013.

During his nearly 30 years in the NFL, Heckert’s teams have earned 17 playoff appearances, three conference championship appearances, and one Super Bowl championship.

AFC Notes: Watson, Kizer, Jets, Broncos

After the Texans traded up in the first round of the draft to select ex-Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson 12th overall, head coach Bill O’Brien declared that veteran signal-caller Tom Savage would start Week 1. Like O’Brien, general manager Rick Smith regards Savage as the favorite to land the job, but the executive isn’t as ready to hand him the role. In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Stephen A. Smith on Thursday, Rick Smith indicated that Watson will have a chance to compete with Savage in the coming months, per Sarah Barshop of “We want to provide a competitive environment across the board. So [Watson will] compete,” Smith said. “[But] like I said, we feel good about Tom and his abilities to manage the offense. But yeah, [Watson] will come in, and just like every other guy on the roster, he’ll have time to play.”

More from the AFC:

  • As is the case with Houston, the Browns are prepared to let their rookie signal-caller compete for a starting job. In Cleveland’s case, it’s second-rounder DeShone Kizer, who will be part of “an open competition” that could also feature Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, GM Sashi Brown said Thursday on ESPN’s Mike and Mike (via Nate Ulrich of Meanwhile, speaking with Cleveland Browns Daily, head coach Hue Jackson lavished praise on Kizer, a former Notre Dame star who went 52nd in the draft. “He has the characteristics that we as an organization covet. He’s a big man,” Jackson said of the 6-foot-4, 233-pounder. “He has the AFC North stature that I love. He has a big arm. He’s very intelligent. He’s played in a real big-time football program. He understands the demands of playing the position. He understands the demands of being a quarterback and the face of the franchise.”
  • Free agent quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson will attend the Jets‘ rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, reports Rich Cimini of Bethel-Thompson, 28, is certainly familiar with the workout circuit, as he’s spent time with five NFL clubs and one team each in the Canadian Football League, Arena Football League, and United Football League. He also took part in the Spring League earlier this year. Bethel-Thompson’s last NFL stint came with the Eagles, with whom he earned two stints in 2016. For Gang Green, Bethel-Thompson likely only represents an offeason option, as the club already boasts signal-callers Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg.
  • The Broncos on Friday announced a restructuring of their front office under executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway. Director of pro personnel Tom Heckert has been promoted to senior personnel advisor, while A.J. Durso has been promoted to take Heckert’s previous post. Brian Stark, meanwhile, has been promoted from national scout to director of college scouting. Denver’s staff changes will help account for the loss of former scouting director Adam Peters, who left for a personnel role with the 49ers in January.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Extra Points: Broncos, Fins, Bengals, Cowboys

Broncos director of pro personnel Tom Heckert won’t get to watch his club take on the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, as he revealed that he’s been dealing with a “very treatable blood disorder,” writes Mike Klis of 9News. Heckert, formerly the general manager of the Browns, has been on medical leave since the start of the second half of the regular season. PFR joins the NFL community in wishing Heckert all the best in his recovery.

Now let’s take a quick spin around the league:

  • Concussions increased league-wide in 2015, the NFL announced in its annual injury report. Reported concussions rose from 115 in 2014 to 182 this past year, and the league will study why that was the case, according to Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press.
  • New Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph praised Bengals defensive backs Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones during his introductory press conference, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald expects Miami to target both in free agency. Joseph is tasked with turning around a Dolphins defense that ranked in the bottom 10 of DVOA, and improving the secondary is a logical first step. Aside from safety Reshad Jones, Miami doesn’t have very many immovable objects in its defensive backfield.
  • Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence recently underwent back surgery, but he should be able to return “when it matters,” a source tells Todd Archer of As Archer notes, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett was hesitant to put a timetable on Lawrence’s recovery when speaking at the Senior Bowl. Lawrence took a big leap forward in his second NFl season, starting 13 games and posting eight sacks in the process.