On Wednesday, Browns’ GM Andrew Berry held a press conference, where he covered a variety of topics relating to the team’s turbulent 2022 campaign. Since we don’t hear from Berry that often, I thought it was worth examining some of his thoughts.
1. Fortunately for Berry, the session was held a day after the Browns’ convincing 32-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. As such, the tone was generally positive - as the general media consensus has declared the Browns season very much alive at 3-5. It’s amazing the difference one game (albeit an extraordinary performance) can make. Had the Browns bungled another close game to fall to 2-6, Berry could have felt heat at the presser - perhaps for the first time in his GM tenure.
2. As for Berry’s overall performance, he was clearly more comfortable Wednesday as compared to the team’s train wreck mid-August gathering, where he and team owner Jimmy Haslam stumbled through a series of questions relating to DeShaun Watson’s suspension. That press conference was among the worst in team history, as Haslam defiantly bulldozed any thoughts of empathy, while Berry’s robotic personality appeared to suffer a series of glitches.
3. Berry couldn’t have planned the timing of the press conference any better. After 6 mostly disappointing games, Berry appeared publicly after the team’s biggest win of the season. The optics of this are subtle but unmistakable. Berry gets a positive association during what could be the last feel-good week of the Browns’ season. While the team has made strides over the last two games, a return to earlier struggles shouldn’t shock realistic fans. Further, if the season unravels, look for Berry to retreat into the shadows while Kevin Stefanski faces the public pressure.
4. As for any potential trade deadline moves, Berry gave a master class in delivering a non-answer:
“I would say that candidly it probably maybe had a little bit of a mild influence,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t say that it moved the needle significantly in one direction or another. I had probably a pretty good idea in terms of how we wanted to approach yesterday with a couple of different opportunities, but to suggest it didn’t have some type of mild impact I think would be disingenuous.”
Only Berry’s robotic lawyer brain can use the word “candidly”, then follow it with qualifiers such as “probably”, “maybe”, “a little bit” and “mild.” Overall, “mild” seemed to be Berry’s preferred adjective when describing his human emotions.
5. “We feel really good about the team we have and feel really good about the guys in the locker room.”
In some respects, this is a throwaway, obvious line from an NFL GM. Yet, there are some lingering truths here.
First, it’s been well documented, but bears repeating: Berry has an unwavering belief and/or arrogance regarding his draft picks. The lack of deadline moves signals that the Browns’ defense is going to rely on Berry’s draft picks, several of which have proven underwhelming. Although in Berry’s defense, 2022 rookie M.J. Emerson looks like a keeper.
Second, Berry’s lack of deadline moves is a sign that the Browns are sticking to the larger organizational plan of developing a young roster around what they hope is a franchise QB in DeShaun Watson. The lack of moves - either by addition or subtraction - would seem to suggest that perhaps Haslam is showing patience during what has been a disappointing first half of the season.
6. “As we look at Monday night and going into this bye, I think it provided a picture of the team that we can be…”
It’s funny how these Browns’ seasons seem to repeat themselves. In 2021, it took a savage beatdown at the hands of the Patriots for the Browns’ defense to dramatically improve. Perhaps the same will be said regarding this season, as the Browns’ defense has tightened in the two games following another bad Patriots loss.
Similarly, the Browns seemed to take off in 2020 following a dramatic 37-34 win over the Bengals. After a stumble against the Raiders, the Browns peeled off four straight wins. Last season, it felt like the Browns turned a corner after a 41-16 blowout at Cincinnati. However, the momentum was lost, as they played three of their worst games of the season (including an ugly home win over the Lions.)
After the team’s upcoming bye, the schedule gets rough as the Browns visit the AFC East’s top two teams. Those two games could essentially decide the team’s season.
7. “I think everybody realizes that it can look a little bit different when Deshaun eventually takes snaps under center…”
You think so???
On so many different levels, Berry has never made a more accurate statement.
The pressure of expectations that will be created for Watson’s debut will be immense - regardless whether the team is in playoff contention or Stefanski and Berry are fighting to keep their jobs.
For Stefanski, this moment is nearly three years in the making. After suffering through Baker Mayfield’s mercurial play and Jacoby Brissett’s limited ability, we’re going to get a glimpse of a Stefanski offense run by a top NFL QB. If the Browns fall out of playoff contention, then Watson’s debut also doubles as a further 2023 job audition for Stefanski - a task that is compounded by Watson’s nearly two-year inactivity.
No pressure, guys.
8. “Our approach isn’t to really any quarterback but certainly with the time that Deshaun has had off to expect him to shoulder everything. That is not necessarily how the team is designed or put together. I don’t know that would be a fair ask for any quarterback.”
Have you met the Cleveland media, Andrew? Good luck with that.
9. “I think that it is no secret that our scheme and our defensive philosophy in how this system is designed is more predicated on speed than size and largely because of what we will ask the defensive line or the second level to do in coverage or how we really kind of move the front.”
Berry’s statement here is intriguing. From a purely subjective viewpoint, I get what Berry is saying but I would also contend that the 2020 defense - which was decidedly slower and bigger - seemed to gel quicker than the current unit. Likewise, the play of Sione Takitaki and Deion Jones - two players not known for their speed - have improved the team’s defense after replacing the speedy but unreliable Jacob Phillips.
10. Kareem has been excellent every day that he has been in the building since August. I think you all know how passionate he is, how much he cares about this team and how much he cares about this city.
Despite the Browns being depleted in future draft picks, it made little sense to trade Hunt for a 5th round pick or worse. Hunt’s value as a change of pace and third down back is replaceable, but his true worth is found in his energizing nature. The Browns missed his energy and spirit last season after he was injured. His intangibles are worth keeping - if only for the next couple months.
Dave Kolonich has written for Fox Sports Ohio, The Orange and Brown Report and created Cleveland Reboot.