Andrew Berry 2/28/2023

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns

Photo: (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Opening statement: 

“Excited to be here in Indianapolis. Obviously, the past few weeks we have spent a lot of time just looking at everything soup to nuts organizationally, coaching staff, roster and everything across football operations to make sure that we can make the necessary improvements to really be where we want to be in the 2023 season. We always get really excited about the Combine because it is really our first look with the upcoming draft class. We spent probably upwards of the last 10-11 months researching these players and scouting these players. It really gives us our first interpersonal touchpoint where we get to spend a little bit more time with them and a little bit more extended time with them in Indianapolis. That is always very exciting for us, and it really kicks off the 2023 offseason for us. We enter the year really energized and with a ton of enthusiasm. Looking forward to improving the team and the roster.”


On the opportunity to evaluate prospects during the Senior Bowl:

“That is a great question. The Senior Bowl we view as really the premier All-Star event in the offseason for college players. Honestly, (Senior Bowl Executive Director) Jim Nagy and his staff do a phenomenal job. It allows us to see a lot of the top prospects in the draft. It gives us really phenomenal access in a controlled environment with those players. I also think one of the added elements that the Senior Bowl does is for players who come from maybe lower levels of competition getting the right guys in front of NFL scouts and decision makers and putting them in an environment where they can play against NFL talent more consistently. The Senior Bowl is just a huge benefit for us throughout the scouting process.”


On reports that the Browns plan to trade or release S John Johnson III:

“I will start by saying John, the first thought probably is just gratitude in terms of what he has done the past two years on the field and in the locker room for us. We after just looking at the roster and thinking about where we want to be in 2023 thought it would be the best move for the organization to really part ways. That certainly doesn’t minimize what John was able to do while he was with our team.”


On if the Browns plan to fill Johnson’s role on defense with a young or veteran player:

“All of that really is to be determined to be honest. It is a long offseason that really doesn’t formally begin until the middle of March. As we always do, we will stay flexible, we will stay adaptable and try and map our resources to opportunities.”


On RB Jerome Ford:

“Jerome, we thought did a nice job for us his rookie year. His main contributions were really within the kicking game and carved out a nice role as a really strong kick returner for us. One of the things that drew us to Jerome throughout last year’s draft process is his ability in the passing game, and he will certainly have opportunities going into his second year to potentially showcase those skills on a more extended level.”


On how to create the desired cap space for the 2023 offseason:

“It is a good question. Really, we look at really kind of two different mechanisms – we look at the cash that we want to spend and then the cap is really an accounting mechanism for that. The rules are flexible. Whether it is releasing a player, trading a player, restructuring a deal or negotiating an extension, there are a number of different avenues to create cap space, and the approach we would take would really be dictated by the opportunities in front of us.”


On the depth of the 2023 NFL Draft Class:

“I get asked this question every year. To be honest, I think going into any year, there is a lot of uncertainty. I have come to realize just how much you don’t know in terms of prospects as they transition into the NFL. I know every year there are good players and players that we will target or players that we will like in the process. That is no different this year. I firmly believe that there will be quality players every year throughout the draft. For me, it is always tough to talk about whether it is depth at the top, depth in the middle rounds or depth by position because oftentimes, we go back and look at those draft classes, and it turns out a lot different than maybe we anticipate. We try our best to go in with that intellectual humility with the fact that what we think today may be a lot different than how we see it down the line.”


On defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s input with the Browns personnel department since joining the team:

“We have always been a firm believer as a front office in partnering with our coaching staff. That has always been the case with (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski). That will always be the case with our coordinators. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we are able to map personnel strengths and skillsets to the offensive, defensive or our kicking game philosophy. That will be no different with Jim. It certainly does help having worked with Jim before and have some level of familiarity. I have a pretty good sense of what he wants in different parts of the defense. That will always be the case with our coaching staff.”


On communication with Schwartz regarding Johnson’s status with the team:

“We would always stay in communication with our coaching staff or our coordinators for a decision like this. One of the first things we will ask really any coach that is in the organization at the end of the year to evaluate their position group or evaluate their side of the ball, and from there, we will have the meaningful strategic discussions as we modify the roster.”


On evaluating QB Deshaun Watson’s timeline for development within the offense this offseason:

“I definitely understand the question. To be honest, I don’t think that is an appropriate question for me to answer in this setting. I will say that we are pleased with where Deshaun is, pleased with the progress he has made since he has been with us and certainly anticipate him having a very strong year on and off the field going into 2023.”


On expectations for WR David Bell in 2023:

“I think for all of our young players, we would like to see them continue to make steps forward. David as a rookie player really did a nice job just in terms of his reliability, whether that is mentally we were able to put him in a number of different spots throughout the year. Really, his biggest strength physically is really his hands, catching the ball, catching in his frame and catching outside of the frame. We would like to have him take a step in Year 2 in terms of taking further advantage of his targets and getting more familiar with our offense, but we were pleased with him as rookie. Would like to see all of our young players progress.”


On evaluating Watson’s performance at the end of the 2023 season:

“We are very excited about Deshaun. We are looking forward to continuing to evolve the offense over the next several months. Obviously having him have a full offseason going into 2023 and certainly expect him to play at a high level.”


On most of the Browns’ top picks under his leadership typically being 23 years old or younger and if that will be a ‘guard rail’ in 2023:

“I feel like I have heard this term guard rail a number of years now (laughter). To be honest, I think perhaps more is made of the age considerations than maybe how we actually think about it. We really do try and treat each prospect on the individual merits of their career. I am not going to suggest that that is not part of the equation for certain players, but just because a player is older coming out does not necessarily mean they have a lower ceiling and likewise just because a player is younger coming up does not necessarily mean that they have more potential. We really try to make this consideration on an individual basis. Who knows? Maybe that will change this upcoming year.”


On if it was an organization decision to bring in new offensive and special teams coordinators this year:

“First and foremost, Kevin is the driver of the coaching staff, but that is not to suggest that we do not have discussions or there is not some level of council, no different than how we think about roster decisions or player decisions. At the end of the day, Kevin, his goal and his mission is to make the decisions that he thinks are best for the team, and he has always done that and he will continue to do so.”


On if he personally feels extra urgency heading into the 2023 season:

“You feel urgency every year to be honest. I think we all feel like we have an incredible responsibility to the organization and to the city to put a good team out on the field. I think that probably if you don’t feel urgency and honestly you don’t feel excitement to be honest, that is probably the biggest one is if you don’t feel excitement, you are in the wrong role.”


On if the Browns will release additional veterans to create more salary cap room:

“To hard to say. I think it really just depends on circumstances and what opportunities come before us in the next several months. I don’t have a crystal ball in that matter, but probably the easiest thing for me to say is we are very excited and feel very good about the core of the team.”


On balancing short-term and long-term roster decisions, given the Browns did not reach the postseason the past two years:

“Every year your goal is to make sure that you get to the playoffs. I do think that there are different points organizationally where your roster and your core is in a different place. We feel really good about a lot of our key and top players being in the middle of their prime and certainly think that this is a year where we can be very competitive, but we want to be competitive every year. That is really the goal. We want to be playing deep into the season every year. That will be the goal.”


On the strengths of Stefanski’s even-keeled demeanor:

“I think Kevin’s level-headedness quite honestly. It is easy to ride the wave of emotion for really any head coach in the NFL. Kevin is very much a steady hand at the helm, and I think it serves our organization and it serves our team very well.”


On if the Browns’ approach during the draft or free agency process changes with Watson as the team’s starting QB:

“I do not think anything really changes the draft and free agency process in terms of the preparation. I have said this a number of times that we really go into each offseason as if we have an expansion roster. We really go through it kind of need agnostic. How that influences decision making because the reality of it is when you do have the expensive quarterback you do have a different set of constraints in terms of roster building, that may change. That may change from year to year, but how we go through the approach and how we go through the preparation, that really doesn’t.”


On if there is a salary cap benefit to knowing how much cap space will be designated to Watson as the starting QB and making other roster decisions:

“I do not know if it is necessarily a benefit because even that can change based on your yearly strategy. That is not to suggest that is not a contract that could get touched at some point over the next several years so I would not say that in and of itself drives anything.”


On if C Nick Harris will be the 2023 starter, given Harris is the only person currently on the roster at the position:

“That is to be determined, quite honestly. I think there is a lot of work to do on the roster. We are sitting here the last day of February, and there is a lot that needs to be done until we get to August and we are competing for roster spots.”


On if the Browns could restructure Watson’s contract this offseason to reduce the cap hit:

“It could be on the table, but there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can do from a cap perspective.”


On the Browns’ front office structure:

“Honestly, it was a model I saw where it worked in Philadelphia under (Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman). Almost the way I think about it is a lot of times the general manager’s role in season is largely focused on helping run the day to day of the team, and then out of season, it is really the focus is on the roster – probably no different than like if you are a head coach, your responsibilities preside offensively, defensively and in the kicking game – so I almost look at it as like the equivalent of like an offensive or defensive coordinator, so to speak, where you have individuals who are very broad and can do maybe everything across of the football operations spectrum, but they may have a specialty in terms of helping you from a day-to-day perspective, depending on the time of the year.”


On adding assistant general manager Catherine Raiche:

“Quite honestly, Cat is one of the most talented front office executives I have ever had the pleasure of working with. There is really nothing that she cannot do. She can evaluate. She can manage. She can lead. She is really strong in contract management. Super smart. Super strategic. Honestly, I looked at it as an opportunity to add someone who I view as a rock star in the front office. The additional benefit of having had some prior work history was certainly a bonus, but she is outstanding and one of the most talented executives I have had the pleasure of working with.”


On if there was any thought that Watson’s contract might change the landscape of the league, specifically referencing Ravens QB Lamar Jackson:

“I don’t know that would really be appropriate for me to comment on Lamar or anything like that. It is probably a better question for another team.”


On how the Browns’ trading early picks in future years impacts the team’s ability to make subsequent trades this year:

“It probably depends on the individual circumstance to be honest. That is probably the best way to say it. I do not know that there is anything systematic or formulaic in that regard. Yeah, that is where we sit as of Feb. 28, but a lot could change between now and then.”


On best practices for interviewing draft prospects and asking appropriate questions, given some teams have been under scrutiny for questions asked in the past:

“I will be honest, that is not something we have ever really had a problem with.”


On Watson’s fully-guaranteed contract and if it will force teams to give similar deals:

“I don’t have a crystal ball for that to be honest. My guess is it is probably more unlikely that it would, but I don’t have a crystal ball.”


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