Andrew Berry became the youngest general manager in NFL history when he was hired last January at 32 years old.
Although he’s used to arriving at destinations early, he disputed the notion the Browns are ahead of schedule in reaching the divisional round of the playoffs in the first season with him and coach Kevin Stefanski in charge.
“No, I would not say that at all,” Berry said Friday on a Zoom call with beat writers. “We had high expectations for ourselves coming into the year. We thought that we had the right individuals within our organization where we could have success this year, but it always has to come together.
“Obviously we are very excited as an organization to be preparing for the divisional round against the Chiefs. With that being said, that is not our destination and that is not our final goal.”
Berry’s enthusiasm includes the development of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who led the Browns to an 11-5 record during the regular season and the franchise’s first playoff win in 26 years.
“We talked at the bye and I mentioned that Baker had done really everything we had asked of him and we expected him to continue to grow and evolve as he got more time in the offense, and I think that’s something that all of us have seen over the second half of the season,’’ Berry said. “I think a big function of it, the circumstances coming into this year were really challenging for someone who was going on his fourth offensive coordinator in three years, no offseason, new system.
“So it’s a credit it to him, it’s a credit to Kevin, to (coordinator Alex Van Pelt), to all of Baker’s hard work. He’s really grown up before our eyes.”
Mayfield got off to a shaky start in his first season with Stefanski but has taken off in the second half. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns and one interception in his last 349 passes heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. He’s concluding his third season, so the Browns can sign him to an extension in the offseason.
“There will be plenty of time for those discussions with all the 2021 decisions,” Berry said. “It’s probably just easier to say that I’m really pleased with Baker’s performance, really pleased with what he’s done this year. We wouldn’t be here without his contributions.”
The first season for Berry and Stefanski wasn’t what they imagined when they took the jobs. The pandemic created a multitude of challenges that peaked last week when a COVID-19 outbreak hit the team before its first playoff game in 18 years. Stefanski was among those who tested positive and missed the game, the building was closed most of the week and two practices were canceled.
“I just want to mention how proud I am of how our entire organization handled the circumstances of last week,” Berry said. “This group has dealt with a ton of adversity and challenges over the course of the year, and none perhaps greater than what we have experienced the past two or three weeks. At every turn and every pass, everyone has responded in a fantastic manner with positive attitudes and really found solutions to some challenging problems.”
He credited the “unflappable” Stefanski for steering the ship.
“He is the same person every day. Even-keeled demeanor. Fantastic with people,” Berry said. “You need that steady hand within your organization with the inevitable ups and downs and adversity that hits in any NFL season, let alone this one. I can’t say enough kind and positive words about the job that Kevin and his staff have done.”
Stefanski returned the compliment.
“Andrew and his staff have done an outstanding job,” he said. “Andrew does a great job leading this organization.”
The matchup vs. the Chiefs is the latest measuring stick for how far the Browns have come. Kansas City won the Super Bowl last year, went 14-2 this year, is the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a 10-point favorite over the Browns.
The Chiefs are led by coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“They are a fantastic organization and fantastic team,” Berry said. “They have a lot of talented players on the roster, not just Patrick, but whether it is Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones or Tyrann Mathieu, and really a Hall of Fame head coach, who has a fantastic staff, as well. We have a lot of respect for the Chiefs and realize that they are one of the best teams in the sport.
“With that being said, whether it is Baker or other players, we have a lot of confidence in the guys who are in our building, and they have proven it week in and week out. We are excited for the challenge. We expect Baker to respond and we expect really all of our guys up and down our roster to respond. We are looking forward to a competitive game.”