Even though they'd love nothing more than to be preparing for the AFC Championship, the Browns are on to the offseason.
The sting of Sunday's loss hasn't gone away, but EVP of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry is already locked on to making the Browns even better in 2021.
Berry, who will enter his second offseason in his position as the leader of Cleveland's football operations, met with reporters Wednesday for a lengthy discussion about the upcoming months.
Here's what we learned.
1. Browns are 'well-positioned' no matter what happens to salary cap
Uncertainty remains throughout the NFL about how the salary cap will look entering the 2021 season, but Berry is confident the Browns will be "well-positioned," no matter how much it drops.
The Browns have plenty of wiggle room even if it goes as low as is permitted ($175 million) per the agreement struck by owners and players before the start of the 2020 season. Still, it's something that will affect the team's decision-making, Berry said, because "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," Berry said. "It will play a role in our offseason planning. That is part of the challenge for all NFL front offices. It makes it hard, but that is also the job. We look forward to attacking that challenge and hopefully doing a really nice job eight or nine months from now."
Berry said it was too early to tell if the Browns could actually benefit from the cap dropping because of the expected wave of available players.
"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," Berry said. "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."
2. Browns looking to upgrade all areas of roster
Berry didn't bite when he was asked if the Browns would focus heavily on the defense during the offseason. Instead, he maintained his philosophy of looking to improve all areas of the roster.
The next few weeks will be focused on a "self-assessment" of the entire football operations. Then, Berry and his group will plot their course.
"It is a fair observation to realize that the resources this past year that we had going into this past fall were predominantly oriented to support the offense and support the quarterback, but that does not mean that we did not make some investments all across the team," Berry said. "We can have improvement anywhere. I 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."
3. High praise for Baker
Berry declined to get into any details about a potential contract extension for Baker Mayfield but made it very clear how highly he thinks of the Browns QB.
"He did an excellent job this year," Berry said. "He led us to our first playoff appearance in eons. We got 12 wins, played winning football all year and developed a really strong relationship with Kevin (Stefanski) and the offensive staff.
"He really thrives on a weekly basis both on and off the field. We are very, very pleased with him. We would not be where we were at the end of the season without his performance. He had a really tremendous season."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday by the Browns photo team
4. Browns in a 'good spot' health-wise entering offseason
For the most part, Browns players are in a "good spot" health-wise as they spend the next couple of months resting and recovering from the grueling season, Berry said.
Berry said he recently talked with WR Odell Beckham Jr., who suffered a season-ending knee injury Week 7 against the Bengals. Beckham's rehab is "going well," and the talented WR is "in a good mental spot," Berry said.
"The one thing I can tell you about Grant and Greedy is the way that those two have attacked their approach to rehab and staying engaged with the team," Berry said. "They have prepared every week as if they were going to play even when it became obvious that they were not. I am very optimistic and very bullish on their physical recovery and then ultimately, when they do get back, of being able to play at a high level for us. Those two individuals deserve a ton of credit because that is not easy to go through."
5. Heartbroken for OV
Berry said he talked Tuesday with veteran DE Olivier Vernon, who suffered an Achilles injury in the Browns' regular season finale against the Steelers. Vernon, who saw his 2019 season short-circuited by a knee injury, was one of the NFL's best pass rushers during the second half of the season, finishing with nine sacks — all of which coming in the team's final nine games.
"I am heartbroken for him because he did play so well down the stretch and then did not get a chance to enjoy the playoffs with us at Pittsburgh and at Kansas City," Berry said.
Vernon is among the numerous Browns players who will become a free agent in March.
"This probably pertains to really all of our free agents — we will deal with it really as it goes," Berry said. "You want to retain as many good players as possible. In some situations, it ends up being the right fit, and in other situations, it does not. At the same time, that is something that we have the next several weeks to work through.
"We really do our best to maintain transparency and communication with all of the guys who have contracts expiring. We will continue to do that and work through those as more of the economic unknowns become known as we get into February and March."
6. Browns transitioning to the 'mature state'
Berry described the state of the Browns succinctly while answering a question about looming contract extensions for a number of the team's top players. He called it "a little bit more of a mature state."
Berry pointed to the Chiefs as an example of a team that focused its previous offseason on spending significant money to solidify its core with new contracts and extensions. That's where the Browns hope to be sooner rather than later.
"It is a little bit of a balance," Berry said. "That being said, I do not think anything precludes us from adding external talent if it is appropriate. At times, maybe we will have to be creative with our contract structuring or our sequencing, but that is certainly something that we are up to the task to do."