PALM BEACH, Fla. — Kevin Stefanski is entering his third year as a head coach, but he hasn't yet had a chance to participate in the NFL's Annual Meetings, held this year at The Breakers hotel in Florida.
The pandemic stopped the NFL the last two seasons from holding the meetings, which provide coaches, GMs, owners and other NFL executives a chance to discuss the current state of the league, propose rule changes and brainstorm other possible amendments.
It's also a chance for them to meet with the media. Stefanski completed his interview Monday, and he had plenty to discuss after the Browns' busy start to the new league year.
We're diving into seven points of interest from Stefanski's 30-minute interview to kick off the week.
1. Browns plan to mold offense around Watson
Stefanski is anticipating a few tweaks to his playbook to fit the versatile skillset of newly-acquired QB Deshaun Watson, but it doesn't appear as though any large scheme changes are coming to the Browns' offense.
Watson, who was acquired for six draft picks on March 18 in a trade with the Texans, has been to three Pro Bowls since he entered the league in 2017 because of his strong, accurate arm and ability to evade pressure in the pocket. Those skills still fare well with the playbook Stefanski has installed since he became head coach in 2020, which revolves around play-action passes to set up deep-ball opportunities mixed with a heavy dose of the run game to fatigue defenses.
"There are some things that Deshaun has done in his career that we have done the last couple years," Stefanski said, "and there's a few other things that maybe we haven't featured that we want to do more of now that Deshaun is our quarterback and really match what we're doing to his skill set."
While there might not be any big changes, the 2022 playbook still remains far from finalized, and the addition of WR Amari Cooper and other possible additions to the offense could lead to more tweaking.
"You better evolve," Stefanski said. "If you have different running backs, different wide receivers, but certainly when you're talking about the quarterback position, you better do what that player does best. And that's what we want to do."
2. Stefanski expects Watson to participate in voluntary workouts
The first chance Stefanski will have to get to work with Watson will be April 19, when Browns players will be back in Cleveland for their first round of voluntary offseason workouts.
Stefanski said he expects Watson to be a part of the group.
"He will be here and it's a voluntary program as we all know," he said. "I think there's great value in being around your teammates and around your coaches in Berea, and Deshaun will be a part of that."
3. Browns valued Brissett's experience the most
The Browns will also have a new QB to back up Watson, too. Six-year veteran Jacoby Brissett officially signed with Cleveland last week and has primarily served as a steady backup throughout his career with previous stops in New England, Indianapolis and Miami.
Brissett has compiled 37 starts and a 14-23 record in 60 games with 7,742 career passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He went 2-3 with the Dolphins last season and completed a career-high 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,283 yards, five touchdowns and four INTs.
"We really value that backup quarterback position," Stefanski said. "I certainly do. I know Andrew does. It's an important role. That person has to be ready to get in there and win you a ballgame at a moment's notice. So having a guy like Jacoby who's been through it, has started a lot of football games, he's really a smart young man. Just getting to know him when they brought him in throughout the process, I think we got a really good one there."
4. Cooper could be used in variety of WR roles
Stefanski said the Browns have discussed using Cooper, a four-time Pro Bowler acquired March 16 from the Cowboys, in both the inside and outside WR positions.
Cooper is 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and has built a successful career by using that above-average size to win battles against anyone. His big frame pairs well with the type of routes and tasks typically handed to a slot receiver, a position that mainly works in the middle of the field, and he's proven to have the speed and agility to create big plays on the outside, too.
"I think the first thing you notice when you meet Amari is just how physically, how big he is and how imposing he can be," Stefanski said. "You see that in his play. He's a physical athlete with the ball in his hands. He can snap open versus man coverage. He's been a productive player in his career. He's made a lot of plays, and he's someone we're going to be counting on."
5. Will the Browns add another TE?
Stefanski isn't sure yet, but he didn't rule it out.
"You can never have enough TEs," he said.
The Browns could be looking for one, though, after they released Austin Hooper, who recently signed with the Titans. The Browns have four tight ends — David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Miller Forristall and Nick Guggemos — on their roster, but only Njoku and Bryant played in heavy roles last season.
Cleveland led the league last season in 13-personnel sets, which requires three tight ends in the formation, so the Browns could certainly explore adding another possible big piece to the group.
"For us, it comes down to getting through free agency, getting through the draft, see who we have on the roster and then plan accordingly," Stefanski said. "If we don't add another tight end, so to speak, are we going to pivot more to 12 personnel, 11 personnel? It's just basically who we have."
6. 'Nothing changes' for draft plans after trading 1st-round pick
The Browns no longer have a first-round pick in the 2022 draft after they shipped it to Houston in the Watson deal.
Instead, Cleveland will make its first selection in the second round at 44th overall. Stefanski and Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry, however, are still doing their due diligence on first-round prospects — the possibility of a trade back into the round always looms, and no one knows which prospects could potentially slide into Day 2.
It's also a chance for the Browns to evaluate competition, which is the reason Stefanski noted Monday.
"Nothing changes for us," he said. "We want to get to know these players really, really well because we may be competing against them. They may be in free agency in four years. We want to stick to our process and make sure we know these guys."
7. Stefanski 'excited' about Nick Harris
Stefanski said Nick Harris, a fifth-round pick in 2020, would currently slot at the top center spot if the Browns were to roll out a depth chart today. He's the presumed player to fill in for JC Tretter, who was the starting center in all but one game since 2017 but was released by the Browns at the start of the new league year.
"I think that's what it looks like today," Stefanski said. "I'm very excited about Nick. He's gotten in there and done a really nice job. He played mostly guard for us a couple years ago. Got in there in that Green Bay game. I think you saw his skill set. Very intelligent player. Plays very hard, athletic player, so I'm excited about him."