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Combine Notes: With roster largely set, Andrew Berry could slow down in free agency

INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Berry has been aggressive and decisive at the start of free agency during his four seasons as general manager. He’s spent millions to land his top free agent targets and traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver Amari Cooper.

This is the year he could take the foot off the gas.

The Browns went 11-6 last season and made the playoffs for the second time in four years.

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“It’s probably more about where we see the roster currently. That’s more what will dictate the approach as opposed to where we ended last season,” Berry said Tuesday at the scouting combine.

All but four starters are under contract for next season, including the entire starting offense.

“So remember when we were in 2020, we made the playoffs, but we were actually still pretty aggressive in free agency the following year because we had a fair amount of work to do with the defense,” Berry said. “I can’t say that I think we’re necessarily going to have that level of volume with the team currently, but things really do change from week to week, so I can’t say that.”

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The NFL’s salary cap was set at $255.4 million last week, a record $30 million jump.

“That was in the range of our projections. I can’t say that we had the number pinpointed,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t say that it has a fundamental impact in terms of terms of our planning, but obviously there are more available dollars across the league, so that could impact markets accordingly as you think about free agency and extensions.”

Defensive line will again be an offseason priority. End Za’Darius Smith is set to be a free agent after being acquired in a trade last spring, and tackles Jordan Elliott, Shelby Harris and Maurice Hurst II are also eligible for free agency.

Smith, 31, started all 16 games he played last year, totaling 5.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, 27 tackles, eight for loss, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. He had double-digit sacks in three of the previous four seasons with Green Bay and Minnesota.

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“He fit really well,” Berry said. “Really pleased with his production. He was awesome in the room. We really loved having him around. How all those pieces fit together we’re still figuring it out.”

The Browns will likely add a starting tackle, but Harris and Hurst are candidates to return to the rotation after solid first seasons in Cleveland.

“I was just really happy with the group that we had this year,” Berry said. “In an ideal world, we’d like to bring everybody back. I think we all know the practical realities of it, that we do have to make decisions and trade-offs, but it won’t be for lack of effort. If a guy was productive for us and a good fit, we try and make it work.”

BACK IT UP

The Browns and other teams submitted a proposal to the league to move the trade deadline two weeks later in the season. The deadline has been held after Week 8, and Berry laid out the reasons they want it changed.

He said the switch would give teams more flexibility to be better during the stretch run, maintain the competitive integrity of the season — rather than player dumping late — correct the deadline not being moved when the season was expanded to 17 games in 2021 and put the league in position if the schedule grows to 18 games.

Berry said Major League Baseball and the NBA have their trade deadlines after 65 percent of the season, with hockey at 78 percent. The NFL is at 45 percent, and the switch would bump it to 55 percent.

He also noted over the last 10 years the earliest a team had been eliminated from postseason contention was Week 11.

“We felt that was like the sweet spot where we could add additional flexibility, can be proactive in terms of how we’re thinking about it, and it can also be at a time when teams are still competitive as they thought about the current season,” he said.

Berry’s made two in-season trades, acquiring linebacker Deion Jones in 2022 and sending receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones to the Lions last year.

He said whether there’s a vote would be determined closer to the owners meetings in late March, and that there’s opposition to the idea.

ROAD AND HOME

The Browns will hold part of training camp at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for the second straight year. Players throughout the season credited the trip with improving team chemistry, and the Browns are again expected to spend nine days there.

Once the Browns learn their preseason schedule, they’ll set the dates for the trip and the rest of camp, which will include a visit to Berea by the Minnesota Vikings for joint practices. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was hired away from the Browns.

The Browns practiced against the Eagles the last two years — 2022 in Berea and 2023 in Philadelphia.

The Browns are a leading candidate to open the season against the Eagles in San Paolo, Brazil, on Friday, Sept. 6, but Berry said he didn’t have an update.

CHANGE IS GOOD

The competition committee has discussed making the “hip-drop” tackle illegal after the league’s research showed a higher rate of injury. Berry wants it gone.

“Hip drop is something we think is pretty dangerous,” he said. “It’s something we need to figure out a better way to handle within the game.”

Adjusting the kickoff is again up for debate.

“I think everybody agrees that what we saw this past year isn’t the ideal meeting point,” Berry said. “I know special teams coordinators have been putting their heads together to come up with a good solution. I anticipate that’s something we’ll see in the next several weeks.”

EXTRA POINTS

The Brows’ first draft pick is scheduled to be No. 54 in the second round. Berry traded the second-round pick each of the last two years and was asked if he’s more inclined to keep it this year.

“I’m afraid to answer that question either way,” he said. “You know me, I can’t keep money in my pocket, so we’ll see how it goes over the next couple of weeks. I can’t predict that right now.”

** Berry’s identical twin brother, Adam, is early in his NFL career as the director of football operations and strategy for the Eagles.

“It’s been really neat,” Andrew said. “I’m super proud of him. I know I’m biased, but I think he’s really good. He is a pretty fast learner, pretty good looking, too, that type of thing.

“He loves it in Philly. He’s learning from the best GM (Howie Roseman) of the sport, the best front office in the sport and I’m really pleased to see his progress so far.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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