Andrew Berry Showcases Potential as Free Agency Begins

Shawn Stevenson

A new free agency period begins, and the Cleveland Browns are becoming darlings of the offseason yet again. New general manager Andrew Berry has made big splash signings in the first week of free agency. During the legal tampering period he reset both the offensive tackle market and the tight end market on the same day in signing Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper. Berry solidified the right offensive tackle position by signing Conklin to a three-year deal for $42 million. The signing of Conklin is the more impactful of the two market resetting contracts but came after Berry inked tight end Austin Hooper to a four-year deal worth $42 million. 

Hooper comes in and immediately provides another receiving option for Baker Mayfield while also adding a better blocking tight end in the run game. These signings by Andrew Berry were huge for improving Mayfield’s supporting cast and speaks volume for the type of general manager Berry plans on being for this franchise.

Since Berry was hired in January he has reiterated and emphasized the philosophies he will impose as a general manager. Berry gave recognition to the men he worked under prior to being hired by the Browns and how they helped develop his ability to operate as a general manager. During his introductory press conference, Berry stated the Cleveland Browns will be a scouting centered front office. The statement stands out as he mentioned that the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, and Philadelphia Eagles were scouting focused organizations and these franchises have all seen success in the past two seasons. It is essential for the Browns to establish a foundation for their scouting process and based on the moves in the first week of free agency Berry has given fans a glimpse of those processes.

Berry wasted minimal time deconstructing the roster to create cap space to sign free agents and to improve talent across the roster. It began with the releases of CB T.J. Carrie, TE Demetrius Harris, LB Adarius Taylor and OG Eric Kush, moves which increased the teams operating cap space. Further moves were made heading into the start of free agency which included cutting LB Christian Kirskey and S Morgan Burnett, moves that were expected to eventually come this offseason. The players released thus far were all seen as potential cap casualties as Berry and the front office evaluated the roster to improve areas of need. Many of these players were injury prone and/or did not perform well enough on the field.

The Browns had many players that were deemed key free agents because their lack of presence created a dramatic area of need. Berry allowed players such as Joe Schobert, Damarious Randall and Eric Murray to leave via free agency to bring in his own players. Reflecting on the decisions made by Andrew Berry it is obvious that inflated contracts and renovation of the defensive side of the ball is key. The moves made up to this point have left massive holes in the secondary and questions in the linebacker group. Although, Berry has managed to answer many of those questions in a quite efficient manner with recent free agent signings.

Berry and staff identified a plan that is much different for signing defensive free agents than their longer-term offensive contracts, one which included signing Case Keenum to a three-year deal. Every signing that has occurred on the defensive side of the ball have been one-year deals that leaves the front office with plenty of future flexibility. Andrew Berry and company have managed to sign LB B.J. Goodson, SS Karl Joseph, DT Andrew Billings, CB Kevin Johnson and FS Andrew Sendejo. These moves are impressive for Berry’s first free agency period as general manager because he did not fall into the trap of signing majority of his players to long term deals and creating cap space congestion down the road.

Establishing cap space flexibility was so important because it gives Berry the ability to re-sign his foundational talents such as Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward to long term deals. An issue that has plagued many NFL franchises is that they dig themselves into a hole with minimal cap space through poorly structured free agent signings and they can’t resign all their foundational players. 

Another situation Berry will have to avoid is drastically overpaying certain talent which leaves the franchise strapped for cash and they can’t resign key players, something which was somewhat up for debate with Joe Schobert’s contract. Schobert was a key cog for the Browns defense over the past four seasons, but how the team evaluated his production compared to the market value contract Schobert wanted, the front office decided it was time to move on.

Berry and his staff have done a commendable job with the free agent signings they have made on both sides of the ball. Free agents on the defense will be under a microscope this season because their performance and schematic fit will be some deciding factors if they are offered contract extensions. Andrew Sendejo and Andrew Billings are players the front office and coaching staff are familiar with. Sendejo spent nine seasons with the Minnesota Vikings while working with Joe Woods and Andrew Billings comes from division rival Cincinnati Bengals whom the franchise would face twice a year. Sendejo provides veteran leadership for a young secondary while Billings is a great rotation piece for the interior of the defensive line.

Berry and company have impressed thus far in their first free agency with limited time as a complete front office. Berry has signed pieces that will help fellow rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski establish his offense and give Joe Woods more choices to build his defense for the long term through this year’s draft. The Cleveland Browns are moving into a new era with a solidified direction and it is beginning to come together well. Free agency has only begun and there are plenty of avenues that Andrew Berry will continue to evaluate to further construct the best roster possible.

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