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New DC, higher aspirations lead to Browns draft pick exodus

The 53-man roster has been established and a few draft picks are not coming along for the ride

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 Cleveland Browns roster looks a lot different than the one that kicked off the first three seasons under GM Andrew Berry. While HC Kevin Stefanski is engaged in the decision-making process, Berry leads the front office and, ultimately, has the final say on the Browns roster.

The first few seasons under Berry have been interesting with a playoff run in 2020, an injury at quarterback derailing 2021 and a punted season in 2022 due to Cleveland’s acquisition of QB Deshaun Watson while under investigation from the NFL that led to an 11-game suspension.

The 2023 season will have no excuses for Berry (and Stefanski). The team has spent too much money and too many draft picks on the roster to have an excuse for failing to make the playoffs this season.

On top of the roster, defensive coordinator Joe Woods is gone, a year or two too late for many peoples’ taste, with Jim Schwartz on board to replace him.

The combination of high expectations and a new defensive system led to an exodus of players Berry’s selected in the NFL draft. Once a complaint about the Browns GM (he didn’t cut his own draft pick until in season the third year on the job) can no longer be said honestly with four day-two selections out the door along with a few others:

  • WR Anthony Schwartz - 3rd Round
  • DT Tommy Togiai - 3rd
  • K Cade York - 4th
  • DT Perrion Winfrey - 4th
  • RB Demetric Felton - 6th
  • DE Isaiah Thomas - 7th
  • OL Dawson Deaton - 7th

Last year, safety Richard LeCounte III was the first Berry selection to leave the team.

Technically, Schwartz and Deaton (and possibly Thomas) were waived with injury designations which could lead them to land on the team’s injured reserve unless a settlement is reached. In Schwartz’s case, finding a fresh start on a practice squad once he is healthy is probably the best-case scenario.

Each departure can be pointed back to expectations or the new defensive coordinator, or both:

  • WR Schwartz and York still need time to develop which would have kept them on the team a few years ago but this year’s team needed veterans to produce now. Schwartz was replaced by Marquise Goodwin while York was replaced by Dustin Hopkins
  • Felton was a fun attempt at creating a gadget player who could do a lot of things but his tweener status never produced at any one thing enough. He was replaced by Elijah Moore.
  • Togiai and Winfrey, as well as Jordan Elliott, fit Woods’ mold of tweener defensive tackles that, theoretically, could do a few things well. Berry brought in Dalvin Tomlinson, Shelby Harris and Siaki Ika to play right away and do specific things well
  • As seventh-round selections, expectations were not high for Thomas and Deaton but Cleveland’s timeline meant Berry needed to keep trying to find quality backups with Isaiah McGuire and Luke Wypler drafted this year to see if they could develop quicker with higher upsides

In 2020, Berry was hoping to build on what was already on the roster and had a stroke of luck in his first season. In 2021, the Browns GM was looking to build a sustainable roster that fit what Woods wanted on defense and could buoy quarterback play at times. In 2022, mistakes were made swinging for the fences.

2023 in Cleveland has to be different. The initial Browns 53-man roster was almost entirely (sans a couple of young guys on the back end) about winning right now. Long-term, if the team wins, Berry will be celebrated for recalibrating on his own NFL draft decisions. If the team doesn’t win at a high level, it won’t really matter that he cut all of these draft picks (even if York is a Pro Bowl kicker in a year or two as many fans predict).

Big aspirations and Jim Schwartz’s arrival mean a departure for a few Browns draft picks. Now we turn to the results of 2023 to see if any of it matters.

What do you think about Berry’s (seeming) new found willingness to move on from draft picks?