Photo via Joshua Gunter
Being vice president of player personnel with the Cleveland Browns from 2016-18 definitely gave Andrew Berry some familiarity with the franchise once he took over the Browns’ general managing reigns on Jan. 27, 2020.
Familiarity, however, would not put Berry on the automatic pathway toward success. After all, Berry was put in charge of a franchise that, at the time of his hire, did not have a postseason berth to its name for 17 years.
Although Cleveland had the inability to string together playoff spots, let alone division titles, Berry has grabbed the Browns’ general managing gig by the horns and has not only given Cleveland a glimpse of hope in the short term (as you will see in a second), but also a sound framework toward long-term stability as a potent AFC North force.
So, what did the Harvard graduate do to make this possible? Let’s dive and see what the 34-year-old has done over his past two free agency periods.
Specifically, let’s first look at the offensive line.
During the 2019 season, Cleveland’s offensive line left a bit to be desired. Although their sack totals were not putrid at face value (Cleveland’s 41 sacks were tied for 16th in the entire league), all you needed to see was Baker Mayfield’s Sack Percentage (Sk%), which looks at the percentage of the time a quarterback is sacked when attempting to pass. His 7.0 Sk% was a notable spike when compared to his 2018 rookie campaign (4.9 Sk%). As a result, it should be to no one’s surprise that, collectively, Mayfield was pressured more, hit more, and as a result, was forced to throw much earlier than anticipated.
So, what did Berry do to alleviate the concern that was Mayfield’s security (or lack thereof)? He brought in Jack Conklin from the Tennessee Titans, who automatically filled a void at the right tackle position. But it didn’t stop there. With Cleveland’s 10th-overall draft selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, they selected tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. out of the University of Alabama, who in turn started 15 games during his rookie season.
With these two moves, Berry solidified the quarterback’s protective unit from the edge-rushers, which in turn allowed for better usages in roll-out plays, screens and scrambles.
In order to further solidify Mayfield’s offensive capabilities, Berry brought in tight end Austin Hooper on a four-year, $42 million contract and additionally nabbed 2019 John Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. When talking about killing two birds with one stone, Berry definitely had it in mind with these two, as they not only gave Cleveland an additional array of offensive options, but a pair of blockers that could substitute as D-gap defenders, too.
These moves, coupled with a slew of additional smaller-scale transactions (such as a two-year, $13.25 million contract extension to running back Kareem Hunt), all illustrated what Berry really wanted to accomplish – give Mayfield everything he can to replicate his 2018 success.
The end result? A deeper, more refined offense, and more importantly, a much more comfortable quarterback.
But the need to fix weaknesses did not end at the drop of a dime. Not as long as the secondary could be improved, that is. And be improved it most certainly did, as Berry acquired defensive back Grant Delpit with his second-round selection in the draft.
The collection of moves (even with Delpit missing the entire 2020 season) netted Cleveland with a sharper offensive line, more efficient offense and just enough defense to net the Browns with an 11-5 record and even a postseason dub against a heated rival in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Berry’s point of emphasis heading into 2021 NFL Free Agency, however, has not only been the significant strengths his franchise has at its disposal, but in the one area that has still needed improvement: the secondary.
Striking a multi-year deal with John Johnson III and Troy Hill has netted the Browns a pair of flexible players that can not only guard speedy wide receivers, but also provide a mentoring role to the likes of other defensive backs, including Greedy Williams and Delpit.
With these moves, Berry decided that, since Mayfield was already comfortable, it was time to now keep the defense comfortable and confident in who they had patrolling in the secondary.
Over a span of less than two springs, Berry has not been calm, cool and collected. Well, he has, but he has not been patient. No, he has been proactive. Proactive enough to recognize Cleveland’s flaws and fix them in more ways than just one.
The plugging of holes has given Cleveland more recognition as a postseason force, and should Berry continue his trend of proactivity, they will be a scary team for many a playoff season.