Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry had his turn in front of the media on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Berry touched on numerous topics ranging from quarterback Baker Mayfield, to free agency, the makeup of the offensive line and his overall strategy for building a roster, without saying very much in detail.
Nevertheless, here are a few quick takeaways from Berry’s media session.
Baker Mayfield is QB1 until he is not
Just as he did following the end of the season in January, Berry reiterated that the Browns know what quarterback Baker Mayfield can bring to the field when healthy.
Berry also said the Browns are encouraged with Mayfield’s progress as he rehabs from surgery to repair the torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder (quotes via clevelandbrowns.com):
“I think you guys know how hard he works. He has worked his tail off since the surgery. He’s right on track. It’s the first time he’s ever had surgery in his entire career. He’s worked really hard, and we feel good about his progress.
“I think the reality is that we have seen him play at a high level before. Being realistic, the injury does have some impact on his performance. We are focused on him getting healthy.”
Berry’s comments will certainly be disappointing for fans and media members who believe the Browns will “make a splash” by trading for Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers or Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, or “rolling the dice” with a player like Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers or Mitch Trubisky of the Buffalo Bills.
But the reality continues to apparently be that the Browns understand that injuries, among other things, severely impacted Mayfield’s performance last season and that once healthy he can be the quarterback that helped to lead the team to the playoffs in 2020.
Consistency along the offensive line
While Mayfield’s injuries were the headline of last season, the impact they had along the offensive line was just as damaging.
Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. struggled with an ankle injury, and right tackle Jack Conklin suffered an elbow injury and then a torn patellar tendon that ended his season in Week 12.
That had led to some speculation that the Browns should look for a new left tackle and move Wills to right tackle, where he played in college, but Berry shot that idea down on Tuesday by stating that Wills will remain the team’s left tackle.
As for Conklin, Berry is “optimistic he is going to make a strong return for us” and that Conklin might be a “little bit ahead of schedule” in his rehab, although Berry did stop short of saying Conklin will be ready for Week 1.
While he took a positive tone about the tackle situation, Berry did say the Browns will always be on the lookout for depth along the offensive line, especially after that depth was tested last season and came up lacking.
Finally, Berry said he has no plans to mess with the starting five along the offensive line, so that would point to the Browns keeping center JC Tretter for the final year of his contract.
Retaining their own players
Berry was as vague as he could probably be when talking about free agency as the Browns currently have 26 players who can become free agents on March 16.
When asked, however, he did offer some general thoughts about a few key players (quotes via clevelandbrowns.com).
On defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, an unrestricted free agent:
“The relationship) makes it easier — it doesn’t make it easy — but it makes it easier when you have the more difficult conversations. To Jadeveon in particular, yes we still have a good relationship, but that doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed to re-sign him.”
On tight end David Njoku, an unrestricted free agent:
“He’s come a long way, both on and off the field. That’s a credit to him and how hard he worked. David as a player is 25 years old, and I think he’\’s close to maturity, and I think as his opportunities increase, his impact will as well.”
On running back D’Ernest Johnson, a restricted free agent:
“D’Ernest had a great year for us. We’ll work through that over the next several months.”
It is probably safe to say that the Browns would like Clowney to come back if the money works, are going to work out a new deal with Njoku, and will probably keep Johnson, either on a second-round tender that would pay him $3.986 million for the upcoming season or land the Browns a second-round draft selection if he signs with another team.
The one area where Berry did offer a bit of clarity came when he said he deals with each player’s situation differently, so some might be re-signed before free agency while others will be allowed to test the market to determine their value:
“Sometimes (waiting) actually fits a little bit better depending on who the player is or where we are from the cap perspective or what the position is. There are some situations where you have a high degree of urgency. Each situation is unique. I wouldn’t necessarily read into it, whether a guy gets done pre-market or goes to the market.”
Entering his third season on the job, Berry has shown tendencies when it comes to free agency - look for players coming off their rookie deals - and in the NFL Draft - age matters - so it is not surprising that he has a strategy for attacking the offseason.
Basically, always be working to make the team better (quotes via clevelandbrowns.com):
“We go into each offseason with the thought process of as if we had an expansion team. We look at every possibility and every opportunity to try and match it to our resources, costs and really try to be as opportunistic as possible to upgrade the entire talent base.
“The importance of being prepared, being flexible and being able to pivot does not change whether you have one first-round pick or three first-round picks. If you are in a situation where you have multiple, really the thought and preparation before the draft comes in terms of strategy, whether you are going to select a player, whether you are going to turn one of those draft assets into multiple draft assets and ultimately how you may move up and down the board.
“Ultimately, we’re going to prioritize opportunity.”
Admittedly that may sound like a pretty basic strategy, but given how many offseasons the Browns have squandered over the years, having someone with a clear idea of what to do is refreshing.