Andrew Berry wishes the 2022 season could start next month.
Berry, the Browns' Executive Vice President of Football Operations and GM, isn't pleased Cleveland will have to instead wait several months until its next meaningful football game is played. He expressed disappointment in how the season unfolded Tuesday in his end-of-season press conference with local reporters and largely echoed the sentiments players and coaches voiced Monday — no one is happy about how the season ended, but optimism remains for the Browns to be in position for a playoff chase again next year.
That's why Berry wishes next season started sooner, and he's confident the Browns, who finished 8-9 and third in the AFC North, will be able to refine their roster and make necessary adjustments over the next several months to ensure they can return to the playoffs.
"We didn't get the job done this year," he said. "We're all disappointed that we didn't meet our own internal expectations and that we're not playing meaningful football this weekend. Ultimately, we were just too inconsistent in really all three phases throughout the season.
"We all wish that 2022 could start next month because I think the toughest part of today is the fact that we're 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. That's something we really want to work hard to eradicate and again make sure that we're playing meaningful football this time of year."
Berry spent a good chunk of his interview discussing one of the biggest areas the Browns must improve this offseason for them to meet their playoff goals: the offense, and particularly the next steps for QB Baker Mayfield once he returns from shoulder surgery for a torn labrum he suffered in Week 2.
The Browns finished 18th in the league in total offense and struggled to click the same ways it did in its playoff run from 2020, but they've always avoided using Mayfield's injury as an excuse and believe every part of the offense could've performed better. Berry made it clear he expects Mayfield to return next season back in full health and to have a stronger year than 2021, where he completed 60 percent of his passes for a career-low 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
"We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back," Berry said. "He's team-oriented. He's a competitor. He's super tough. He truly wants what is best for the team and really to take the steps that he needs to improve to become the quarterback that we know that he can become."
All of the work the Browns invest in the offense in coming months will be geared toward returning the unit's production closer to that from 2020, when it was one of the most efficient offenses in the league and won games by finding early leads and using a stout rushing attack to keep momentum.
Mayfield built one of the best seasons of his four-year career that season — 3,563 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions — and the Browns believe a return to full health and upgrades at a few other offensive positions will help them return to that level.
"I think it's easy to forget at this point of the year what we've seen with Baker over the past several years," Berry said. "Obviously, he had his most productive season in this offense under Kevin as early as last year. We've been with Baker for a long period of time at this point. We know his work ethic, we know his drive and we've seen him as a talented passer in this league. We're looking forward to him getting healthy and continuing to make improvements."
Berry and the rest of the Browns front office are already deep into reviewing each player's 2021 performance and evaluating the best ways to improve the roster through draft and free agency. Several key contributors from the season are set to hit free agency — TE David Njoku, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Malik Jackson, LB Anthony Walker Jr. are among them — and the Browns will have to make several decisions on who to retain or how to allocate offseason resources for improvement.
The Browns also possess the 13th overall pick of the 2022 NFL draft, which puts them in a favorable position to draft a player who could be a major contributor to next season's roster.
They certainly didn't anticipate owning a pick that early, though, and they didn't expect the season to be over this early, too. Disappointment has been felt by everyone, and those feelings will be used as motivation to bounce back next year.
Unfortunately, the wait will be a long one, but the time will be adequately used by Berry and his staff toward constructing a Browns roster that will give them a shot of prolonging their season into the playoffs next year.
"My job is to assemble the best team possible and make sure that we are in the position to compete consistently for the division, to be in the playoffs and ultimately win a championship," Berry said. "That's something that we will strive to do every year."