The three most important positions for any football team are the quarterback, the coach and the general manager. We know this because the Browns haven’t had a convergence of quality in all three spots since way back in (your guess here). Not coincidentally, the Browns have been hopelessly discombobulated since (go ahead, pick a year).
Then along came now. Now, the Browns have quality in all three spots, and you saw what happened.
It’s quite a trifecta. Baker Mayfield emerged as a franchise quarterback, rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski emerged as a franchise coach and rookie general manager Andrew Berry emerged as a franchise general manager.
All in the span of 12 months.
This is normally the time of year when the only stories written about the Browns are stories on who their next head coach will be, and whether they will be able to draft or trade for a franchise quarterback.
Then along came now. Now, the stories are about what the Browns can do during the offseason that, next season, will help them finish not two wins away from the Super Bowl, but IN the Super Bowl.
It was a year ago this week that the Browns hired Berry as general manager. He inherited a Pound filled with rescue Dawgs. A year later his roster is close to being a championship parade waiting to happen.
Berry hit the ground running, signing free agent tackle Jack Conklin and, miraculously, turning the Browns’ offensive line from the worst in the league to the best in the league in a matter of months. Berry signed free agent tight end Austin Hooper and traded a fifth-round draft pick to Jacksonville for safety Ronnie Harrison, who’s only 23, played at Alabama (always a plus) and became a key figure in an injury- and illness-depleted secondary.
“He played very well,” Berry said on a Zoom call with reporters. “It’s not easy coming in on the eve of the season, learning a new system and jump in and make plays. We’re excited by what we saw.”
Berry passed on the higher-profile Jadeveon Clowney and instead brought back Olivier Vernon on a reduced deal that paid big dividends as he led the team in tackles for losses. Free agent linebacker B.J. Goodson, signed to a one-year deal, led the team in tackles and was tied for the lead in interceptions.
Berry’s first draft for the Browns was a quenching breath of fresh air. First-rounder Jedrick Wills was solid all year at one of the toughest positions on the field to start at as a rookie, left tackle. Second-rounder Grant Delpit probably would have started at safety, but tore his Achilles and missed the season, as did last year’s second-rounder, cornerback Greedy Williams, with nerve damage in his shoulder.
“The way they approached their rehab we’re very optimistic they’ll come back next year and play at a high level,” Berry said.
At the bottom of the draft, Berry went 3-for-3. Tight end Harrison Bryant (fourth round) and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (sixth round) combined for 38 receptions, for 542 yards and five touchdowns, while center Nick Harris (fifth round), forced into the game and out of position at guard, due to injury, helped keep the offensive line humming in an important late-season win over the Giants.
Berry also signed Myles Garrett to a big extension, and Kareem Hunt to a smaller one, but there’s more work to be done in that area, potentially involving Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and Wyatt Teller. Plus Larry Ogunjobi, who is a free agent.
The year after a breakout season is the one that can become tricky for an organization. Making a big jump forward is great, but continuing to move the needle the following year is the challenge. This is the offseason when Berry and his staff must do exactly that. The most important decision there will be Mayfield. It would be a shock if the Browns didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, but are they ready to go all in and negotiate a long-term extension?
Berry’s not tipping his hand on that one.
“I will say Baker did an excellent job of leading us to the Browns’ first playoff appearance in eons,” he said. “Twelve wins, he played winning football. We’re very, very pleased with him. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
There’s a price to be paid to maintain a 12-win football team. That bill will come due in some fashion, during the offseason.
“We want to keep as many of our good players as long as possible,” Berry said.
The Browns have more good players now than they’ve had in several years (decades?). They also have the right coach, and, unlike the Indians, an ownership with enough money to keep the team’s best players in Cleveland.
Berry and his staff have put a stop to the losing. Now they must extend the winning.