Browns EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry packed a lot into a 28-minute session with reporters Tuesday as he looked back at the 2021 season and ahead to 2022.
Here were the five things that stood out most from the session.
1. Confidence in Baker to bounce back
Berry expressed confidence in QB Baker Mayfield to bounce back and perform at the level he did in 2020 after a frustrating, injury-affected 2021 season.
Mayfield suffered a torn labrum to his left, non-throwing shoulder in Cleveland's Week 2 win over the Texans. He played through the pain of that injury, which grew worse after taking a hard hit a few weeks later against the Cardinals, and dealt with a handful of other injuries to his lower body along the way. All told, Mayfield missed just three games, one of which was because of a positive COVID-19 result and the last coming after the Browns were eliminated from playoff contention.
Mayfield threw for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a Browns offense that finished the season 27th in passing offense. Last year, Mayfield posted the best quarterback rating of his career (95.9) and threw for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
"I think it is easy to forget this point of year that what we have seen with Baker over the past several years, obviously he had his most productive season in this offense under Kevin as early as last year," Berry said. "We have been with Baker for a long period of time at this point. We know his work ethic, we know his drive and we have seen him as a talented passer in this league. We are looking forward to him getting healthy and continuing to make improvements. We expect him to bounce back next year."
Check out the best photos from team travel in 2021
2. Praise, optimism for the rookies
Berry had high hopes for his first two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it's safe to say both delivered in their respective productive rookie campaigns.
Rookie CB Greg Newsome II, the Browns' first-round selection, battled through a couple of injuries but definitely looked the part as a starting cornerback in 12 games. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, whom the Browns traded up to select midway through the second round, emerged as an electric, every-down playmaker and finished second on the team with 76 tackles despite missing three games with an ankle injury.
"Both of those guys played well. They grew as the season progressed. There is still a lot each guy can improve," Berry said. "We have obviously had that conversation with both individuals as they enter the offseason. Good rookie year, but they are going off into the next several months with targeted areas that they can work on so they can take a step moving forward and be a big piece of what helps us get to the playoffs in 2022."
Berry also touched on the progress of third-round WR Anthony Schwartz and fourth-round T James Hudson III, both of whom were thrust into expanded roles down the home stretch. Berry was particularly complimentary of Hudson, who experienced "baptism by fire" just a few years after he made the switch from defensive line to offensive tackle.
"Those guys have the year under the belt now of NFL life. Good conversations with both before they left yesterday," Berry said. "They are highly focused and know the areas that they need to improve, and we are looking forward to seeing what progress they can make when they come back during the spring."
3. Good year for Clowney
Veteran DE Jadeveon Clowney finished his first season with the Browns with a flurry, collecting four sacks over the final two games to give him nine for the year.
Clowney's disruptiveness went beyond the stat sheet, too, as he paired nicely with All-Pro Myles Garrett, who set the Browns' single-season sack record with a career-best 16. The vaunted duo combined for 25 of Cleveland's 43 sacks.
The Browns have the next few months to deal exclusively with Clowney, who will be an unrestricted free agent in March, if they want to bring him back for the 2022 season.
"JD had a really good season for us, was very productive run and pass and a disruptive player," Berry said. "He paired nicely with the other guys who we had up front, obviously with Myles being at the forefront. He had a good year. He did the things that we envisioned when we signed him. Good season. Fit in nicely for us. The next several weeks, we will see kind of what the future holds with all of our guys across the roster."
4. Excitement for Adofo-Mensah, Cook
Berry expressed excitement about two of his closest co-workers receiving opportunities to interview for general manager positions elsewhere in the NFL.
According to reports, Browns VP of Football Operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and VP of Player Personnel Glenn Cook have received requests to interview for the Bears' vacancy at general manager. Berry said he was thrilled about it and wished both well in a process he knows very well.
"I know those guys will represent themselves well," Berry said. "Any owner who is looking to hire a general manager, those guys will do a phenomenal job. I am just glad they are interviewing for an NFC team so that I can root for them if they get it."
5. What's next?
Berry said the Browns will spend the next few weeks going through a "postmortem" of the 2021 season.
For Berry, that includes a review of "everything across the roster, our cap and cash situations across football operations." For coach Kevin Stefanski, it entails a review of his coaching staff and "everything we did schematically with really the goal for improving in 2022."
The first tentpole event on the offseason calendar comes in the first week of February, when all 32 NFL teams will have staff flock to Mobile, Alabama, for a week of practices leading up to the 2022 Senior Bowl. One month later, the NFL Combine is back on the schedule for the first week of March.
It's a long time between now and the 2022 season opener, but the Browns will be plenty busy.
"We all wish that 2022 could start next month because I think the toughest part of today is the fact that we are not going to play meaningful football games for another nine months, and I think that leaves a pretty sour taste in all of our mouths," Berry said. "That is something we really want to work hard to eradicate and again make sure that we are playing meaningful football this time of year."