The cold hard facts about the Cleveland Browns since 2020 is that the team made the playoffs once and had losing records the last two seasons. For GM Andrew Berry and HC Kevin Stefanski, the record of 26 wins and 24 losses is theirs to own going into 2023.
Outside of those facts, there have been a lot of reasons for the struggles the last couple of years. Reasons are not excuses but they do provide context. Context in professional sports is vital. Without it, fans would just watch the game and look at the boxscore and nothing else.
We know Browns fans are much more passionate than that, consuming context about their beloved team as often as they can.
For many fans, Berry and Stefanski are a part of or the biggest problem the last two seasons. Many wondered if Cleveland’s owners, primarily Jimmy Haslam with his earned reputation for impatience, would even allow the Browns power duo to remain in charge going into 2023.
As we know, the GM and head coach are still in place with Berry making a ton of moves this offseason to try to make Stefanski’s life easier on the field.
Meeting with local media at the owner’s meetings in Arizona, Jimmy and Dee Haslam addressed whether or not they gave thought to firing Berry and/or Stefanski:
Jimmy Haslam said there was “no consideration” to potentially firing either of them after the Browns’ 7-10 season last year. While choosing his words carefully, he also expressed support for the decisions to replace defensive coordinator Joe Woods with Jim Schwartz and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer with Bubba Ventrone.
Given the losing records the last two seasons, Haslam was asked if it was “playoffs or bust” for the team’s power structure. His answer had a lot of nuance to it:
“I don’t want to say that, but I think that we have expectations to go to the playoffs,” Haslam said. “But I’m not going to say if we don’t make the playoffs, X, Y, Z happens because that’ll be the headline tomorrow. OK? Listen, the AFC is tough. You all been around, our division is tough.”
Haslam is not normally very nuanced so it was interesting to see this thought-out answer. He wasn’t going to give a fun headline that would be plastered all over the place but he also made it clear they have high expectations. The last two sentences provided context, however, to his understanding of the question and what it implies. Yes, the Browns should make the playoffs but the AFC and AFC North are expected to be exceptionally difficult in 2023.
Are Berry and Stefanski’s jobs on the line in 2023? Yes but that is true of everyone working in professional sports. Haslam has been more patient with this pair than many of the past regimes he has had in place but that patience could run thin.
In the end, “playoffs or bust” takes out almost all context. Cleveland can’t be bad this season without Berry and Stefanski losing their jobs. The Browns must be good, which should include a playoff spot, for them to keep their jobs and, potentially, get extensions to their original five-year deals.
Realistically, a team could go 10-7 this year and miss the playoffs or go 9-8 and make the postseason. One or the other likely saves Berry and Stefanski’s spots for at least another season.