INDIANAPOLIS — General manager Andrew Berry will make a run this week at keeping middle linebacker Joe Schobert from hitting the free agent market March 18.
“Joe is a good player and an even better person,” Berry said Tuesday at the scouting combine. “We are going to spend some time with his representation this week to talk through his contractual situation. He’s obviously earned the right to test the market if he deems that appropriate.
“But it’s one of those situations where we like Joe. It obviously has to work for both sides. It has to work for us from a cost perspective with our long-term roster strategy, and obviously it has to be a fit for Joe and his family, as well.”
Berry is at a disadvantage as he tries to keep Schobert.
Berry was hired Jan. 28 to replace John Dorsey with Schobert less than two months away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. An extension was more likely to get done before or during the season, but Dorsey was content to let Schobert leave.
At this stage, there’s little financial incentive for Schobert, who has said he’d like to stay, to re-sign without first seeing what he can get on the open market. The contract offer he would receive when the free agent money starts flying would likely surpass what the Browns are willing to pay.
“That is one of the things that we believe at our core that we are going to be aggressive in engaging in pre-market extensions for players that we view as pillar players — long-term fits for the organization,” said Berry, who was profiled on “Today.”
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) February 25, 2020
Schobert was a fourth-round pick in 2016 during Berry’s first stint with the Browns as vice president of player personnel. He developed into a key piece of the defense, starting 45 games over the last three years and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2017. Schobert was 10th in the NFL in tackles in 2019 with 133 and was the league’s only player with 120 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“Joe’s a good football player,” new coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I have not gotten a chance yet to get in front of him, as you can imagine, but I think from everybody that I’ve spoken to in the building about Joe the person, I think it’s A-plus-plus.
“So really looking forward to seeing how this whole process plays out.”
The Browns have other unrestricted free agents, including free safety Damarious Randall, safety/nickelback Eric Murray, safety Juston Burris and receiver Rashard Higgins. Randall isn’t expected to return, but there’s a chance with the others.
“We have done a really nice job of staying in communication with the representation for all players that have expiring deals and we’re going to touch base with a number of them,” Berry said.
The Browns view receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as “part of our future,” but Berry didn’t slam the door on a possible trade.
“I won’t discuss any specific player in terms of trade opportunities, trade calls, anything like that. I did work under probably the strongest wheeler/dealer in the league under Howie Roseman and it’s something that you always pick up the phone and you listen to anything across the table,” Berry said of the Eagles general manager. “Again, we’re going to exploit every opportunity to improve the roster.”
Earlier, Berry was optimistic about Beckham’s future with the Browns.
“Odell’s a very talented football player, we view him as part of our future,” he said. “Kevin and I both had really good conversations about our expectations for him and we expect him to adapt to those moving forward. We’re excited about the future with Odell, excited about what he’s going to do this fall.”
The Browns intend to keep running back Kareem Hunt, who’s set to become a restricted free agent. The process will start by tendering him, but Berry wouldn’t say at what level. They could use a first-round ($4.4 million last year), second-round ($3.1 million) or original-round (third) tender ($2.025 million).
Another team could then sign Hunt to an offer sheet and the Browns would have the chance to match the contract. If they don’t, they would receive a draft pick to match the tender.
“We think Kareem’s a good football player. We like having good football players on our roster,” Berry said. “I’ve had conversations with him already. I think there’s a future for Kareem here, obviously, and we’ll work through all that. But he’s a player certainly that we’re eager to get to work with.”
ON THE BENCH
Tony Grossi, Browns analyst for ESPN Cleveland (WKNR 850-AM), was suspended indefinitely by the radio station for calling quarterback Baker Mayfield a “f—— midget” on the live feed of TheLandonDemand. He thought they were off the air.
Grossi, who’s had a contentious relationship with Mayfield, apologized on Twitter.
“I am truly sorry for my language and choice of words …” Grossi wrote. “I sincerely apologize for using a word that is a derogatory slur. There’s no excuse for using that language in any context. It was said without malice but also without thought.”
Defensive end Olivier Vernon had 26 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 10 games last season, missing six with a knee injury. The Browns could save $15.25 million in salary by cutting him before the final year of his contract.
Berry was asked if he will ask Vernon to restructure the deal.
“I wouldn’t comment on any specific business decisions in this setting,” he said. “Obviously, Olivier, he didn’t have the year that he’d hoped this past season. We still think he’s a good player and then we’re going to work through all those situations with all players across our roster over the next couple weeks.”
Linebacker Christian Kirksey ($8.75 million) and right tackle Chris Hubbard ($6.15 million) are also in danger.
“We’ll evaluate it no different than any player under contract on our roster,” Berry said. “Some of the decisions are certainly easier than others, but we do have three weeks until the start of the new league year, so we are still working through others.”
Berry said he talked to defensive end Myles Garrett after he was reinstated from an indefinite suspension by Commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this month.
“I’ve had a good conversation with Myles and know that he’s very determined to put 2019 behind him and move forward to 2020 and we’re excited to see what he’s going to do this upcoming season,” Berry said.
Garrett was suspended for ripping off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and hitting him on the head with it. Garrett said Rudolph had called him “a stupid N-word,” and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin adamantly defended Rudolph.
“That matter is in the past,” Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said Tuesday.