INDIANAPOLIS — The primary purpose of the scouting combine is to test draft prospects on the field, medically and in interviews.
It’s so much more than that.
The combine serves as a one-stop shop for all NFL business. This week that even includes negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.
For new Browns general manager Andrew Berry, the non-draft focus will be in three areas.
FREE AGENT FRENZY
Berry has more than three weeks to keep middle linebacker Joe Schobert from becoming a free agent March 18. Schobert is by far the biggest impending unrestricted free agent for the Browns, and Berry is expected to meet with his agent this week.
Former general manager John Dorsey was content to let Schobert leave, while Berry seems more inclined to keep him. But the timeline has become compressed, and Schobert may choose to see what his value is on the open market. Berry should try to avoid that with a strong push this week.
The Browns have big needs at safety, so Berry may consider re-signing Eric Murray and Juston Burris before they become free agents to insure they have some depth at the position. Murray also showed the ability to play nickelback in his lone season with the Browns.
Although the official window to negotiate with other teams’ free agents doesn’t start until March 16, the combine is where many preliminary discussions occur with their agents. Berry can lay the groundwork for tackles, tight ends and safeties he plans to pursue next month.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Before Berry can finalize his list of needs in free agency and the draft, he must know who’s returning.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon ($15.25 million), linebacker Christian Kirksey ($8.75 million) and right tackle Chris Hubbard ($6.15 million) are due big money in 2020 that Berry is likely unwilling to pay. He should use this week to try to restructure their deals. The threesome is worth having on the team — especially Vernon and Kirksey — just not at those prices.
If the players aren’t willing to take a pay cut, Berry will likely cut them and let them get a jump on free agency.
New coach Kevin Stefanski has had his staff in place for a couple of weeks. He’s taken it on the road.
As has been the case too often under owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, the Browns head to the combine with new faces in the organization’s most important positions.
Berry, Stefanski and their staffs have less than a month to get ready for free agency and less than two months before the draft. They have to mesh philosophies and come up with a unified strategy, one in which the personnel department incorporates the opinions of the coaches, who know exactly what they’re looking for in players to fit their schemes.
Trust is a must, and the process kicks into high gear this week.