PALM BEACH, Fla. — Browns Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta sat down with reporters at The Breakers hotel Tuesday during NFL Owners Meetings to discuss the Browns' offseason.
It's been a busy one. The biggest news arrived March 18, when the Browns acquired a new starting QB in Deshaun Watson. His arrival, and what it means for the Browns moving forward, were among the things Berry and DePodesta discussed in their joint interview.
We dove into what they said and a few other points of interest two of the top Browns' executives discussed:
1. 'Fair to say' offense will look different in 2022
Head coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t rule out changes to the Browns' offense to better fit the skillset of Watson when he spoke Monday with reporters. Berry and DePodesta echoed those sentiments Tuesday and offered a bit more context as to how the Browns are viewing possible changes.
Watson, who has above-average mobility and has found success in creating big plays outside of the pocket, will certainly help the Browns create some new wrinkles with their playbook. But outside of the QB position, the Browns may have to alter the frequency of some of their previously most-used formations based on the personnel they have at tight end.
The Browns released Austin Hooper on March 17, leaving only David Njoku and Harrison Bryant as the two tight ends left who were abundantly used in 2021. The Browns led the league in 13 personnel groupings, which requires three tight ends on the field, with a 17-percent mark last season.
But the plans for 2022 — as they've previously been under Berry and Stefanski — will be all about maximizing opportunities for the best players on the roster. That could mean changing tight end usage based on how many top players are available at the position, and that could mean tweaking the offense even more to better fit the play styles Watson plays best in.
"I think it's fair to say that the offense will look a little bit differently than what we've seen the last two years because we do have a quarterback with a pretty unique skillset," Berry said. "I think last year, we felt we had a strong tight end room, a strong running back room. We dealt with different injuries and other things in the receivers room, so that's how the offense morphed a bit. That can be different each year."
"I think they're very adaptable to the personnel that we have available," DePodesta added. "The offense is going to run through our best players. Last year, that happened to be 13 (personnel). I think that's their philosophy, which is why we have no concern about how they're going to use Deshaun. It'll end up being adaptable to our best players, and clearly he's at the forefront of that."
2. Stefanski's 'flexibility' makes him great fit with Watson
Berry has full faith in Stefanski that he'll be able to make those offensive tweaks accordingly and find ways to adapt the offense to he and Watson's likings.
"Adapting" has been arguably one of the most common words that have been mentioned by Stefanski and Berry since the duo joined Cleveland in 2020. Stefanski has done plenty of it — from patching the roster (and coaching staff) on the fly during COVID-19 hurdles, to getting players prepared in a moment's notice due to injuries.
This new adaptation will require more time, which the Browns have, and Berry knows Stefanski will come well-prepared when it comes to experimenting possible options in making the most of Watson's talents.
"(Kevin's) very smart and he's creative," Berry said. "I think over the last two years, he's done a really nice job of showing flexibility in really challenging situations, whether it's injuries, COVID-related, you name it. He also has a really clear vision that we think aligns with Deshaun's strengths as a player. We feel really good about him crafting and designing the offense that will maximize our starting quarterbacks strengths."
3. And the offensive look will capitalize on Watson's scrambling abilities
Watson has rushed 307 times for 1,677 yards (5.5 yards per carry) throughout his four previous seasons, and Berry emphasized that the Browns will fully look to use that speed and agility to their advantage when they mold the offense.
Injury concerns, of course, are always considered when such plans are made, although Berry said Watson's history of being able to protect himself — he hasn't suffered a major injury since his rookie season in 2017 — gives the Browns confidence that he'll be able to stay durable no matter how much he runs the ball.
"We do think Deshaun does a good job of protecting himself as a ball-carrier," Berry said. "He does a pretty good job of not taking a ton of hits. We do want to use that part of his skillset. We will use his athleticism and we will use his ability to carry the ball. The big thing is we don't want him to take unnecessary hits or unnecessary contact. That is an element of his game that we're not afraid to use in the offense."
4. Brissett was on early 'shortlist' of Browns' QB additions
The Browns also added a new QB to back up Watson — Jacoby Brissett, a six-year veteran, was signed and valued highly in the front office for his experience and previous history of being ready on a moment's notice.
Brissett has 60 games under his belt since he was drafted in the third round in 2016 and played 11 games, including five starts last season. He passed for 1,283 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions in 2021.
Berry said the Browns identified Brissett early in the offseason as a player they'd want to target and sign.
"We think Jacoby has shown in multiple environments to be an effective player when called into action," he said. "He's still in his prime and early in his career, and we know that he's an A+ person and A+ leader from his time in New England, his time in Indianapolis and his time in Miami. For an individual who's been in a number of different situations and different offenses and has talent, he was a guy that was on our shortlist of options."
5. Browns 'happy' to see Sashi Brown in new role, albeit in AFC North
Sashi Brown, a former front office colleague with Berry and DePodesta in 2017, recently accepted a position to become Team President for the Baltimore Ravens. Brown was Cleveland's General Manager in 2017, when Berry was with the organization as Vice President of Player Personnel and DePodesta was in his second year Chief Strategy Officer.
Berry and DePodesta said they were proud to see Brown back in the league after he switched sports and became a Chief Planning and Operations Officer with the Washington Wizards of the NBA.
"Really happy for him," Berry said. "I think it's a fantastic role and I think the Ravens organization hired a phenomenal professional and even better person. I think that his experience, both on the football and business side, will serve him real well as team president."
"I'd love to see him. Not sure I'd love seeing him twice a year," DePodesta said with a laugh. "Super happy for him. Like AB said, he's a quality person and it's a great organization. Great fit for both. Super happy for him."