CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The foundation of building any sustainable contender is drafting, developing, and keeping your own players.
It’s the primary reason why the Browns struggled to return to the playoffs for 18 years until finally breaking through this past season.
Now Browns executive vice president of football operations and general manager Andrew Berry’s work of sustaining a contender begins.
“These next couple of weeks, we are really going to go through a full self-assessment – not just the roster but football operations, scheme and you name it – to make sure that we have a really good beat in terms of our planning entering the offseason,” Berry said Wednesday.
Berry will face a multitude of challenges this offseason as he looks to secure their own talent for the long term and bring in new through free agency and the draft.
The Browns came into the 2020 season with high expectations that were not limited to just ending their playoff drought. They aimed to advance, which they did.
Expectations will be elevated in 2021 and Berry is prepared to do what it takes to provide the talent to push them further into the playoffs.
“I do not believe we will go into the spring and have cumbersome restraints in terms of our cap planning across the roster, but we are obviously going to be really deliberate over the next few weeks in mapping out a strategy that will hopefully help allow us to win three more games next year,” Berry said.
After spending most of the 2020 offseason bolstering the offense by spending big money on Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper to go with the selection of Jedrick Wills Jr. with their top pick in the draft, Berry will aim to retool a defense that lagged after he patched it together with a bunch of one-year contracts.
“We can have improvement anywhere,” Berry said of his offseason priorities. “Understand that obviously we think we can certainly boost the defense as we go into 2021. It is probably too early to make any declarative or definitive statements, but certainly understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team.”
The Browns enter the offseason with a total of 24 players with expiring contracts including Rashard Higgins, Kendall Lamm, Larry Ogunjobi, Olivier Vernon, B.J. Goodson, Terrance Mitchell, Karl Joseph and Cody Parkey.
How many return remains to be seen.
Berry will also have to decide on picking up the fifth-year options on the rookie contracts of their 2018 class – quarterback Baker Mayfield, selected first overall, and cornerback Denzel Ward, picked fourth. The two along with running back Nick Chubb, drafted in the second round, are eligible for contract extensions this spring.
“I would like to keep as many of our good players as long as possible,” Berry said. “That is probably the easiest way to say it. Those guys are highly skilled at what they do, and they are great people.”
Right guard Wyatt Teller, who emerged as one of the best right guards in the league, has one year remaining on his contract, as does David Njoku.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the salary cap into flux as the league and NFLPA must assess the financial damage done and how low the cap will go in 2021.
“I will not mislead you, that does play into all of the decisions,” Berry said. “Part of it is because we really do not know precisely what the cap is going to be in 2021. Certainly, we have a floor, but a number of different factors can affect really what that final threshold is. You are looking at a salary cap sport. That does affect player acquisition, it does affect retention and it affects maybe some sequencing and timing in regard to both of those processes. It will play a role in our offseason planning.”
The floor Berry spoke of was set at $175 million for 2021 during negotiations last year to prevent a massive purging of players this year due to cap problems, and there are reports that the cap will not be reduced to that floor figure.
“I think it is too early to know the impacts,” Berry said. “I think that is certainly a possibility, but it is not only just this year but it is also about cap projections in future years and quite honestly how different positional markets move over the course of the spring. Needless to say, we will be monitoring everything. I know we will be well-positioned regardless of where the final number lies this season, but we are ready to go. We are prepared to pivot wherever we may need to do so.”