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Berry, Stefanski eager to see how Baker Mayfield excels amid stability

As the first GM-coach duo to spend a second offseason with Baker Mayfield, Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski believe their quarterback can ascend even higher in 2021

Andrew Berry doesn't need a history lesson on the Browns' previous record of quarterbacks to understand how valuable Baker Mayfield is to the franchise.

Berry, the Browns' Executive Vice President of Football Operations and GM, only needs to discuss Mayfield's 2020 season to describe his importance to Cleveland. Mayfield threw 26 touchdowns and a career-low eight interceptions to lead the Browns to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. His performances, particularly those in the second half of the season when he threw 11 touchdowns and just one interception, were arguably the biggest reason why Cleveland ended the longest playoff drought in the NFL.

But Berry didn't refuse to mention the Browns' history of instability at the quarterback position when attempting to explain how bright Mayfield's future is in Cleveland. Yes, Mayfield's 2020 season gives plenty of reasons for praise, but two decades of continuous turnover at the quarterback position in Cleveland gives Berry even more reasons to embrace his QB1.

"Baker is the first quarterback in — you guys probably know the years more than I do — who has led this organization, led this team to the playoffs and a playoff victory," Berry said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "He has endured an enormous amount of adversity in his young career, just quite honestly with the changes he has gone through with coaching staffs, front offices and offensive systems, and he has risen above it all. I think we all saw him grow from week to week to week last year, and we expect him to continue that progress and have a fantastic 2021 season for us."

The Browns have a luxury that a large chunk of NFL teams don't currently possess: a talented quarterback penciled in at QB1 on their depth chart. Any offseason without question marks at that position is an easier offseason for a GM and head coach, which is why Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski are confident the Browns can become an even more explosive offense in 2021.

One of Stefanski's biggest priorities as a first-year head coach last season was to elevate the play of Mayfield, who needed a strong 2020 season after throwing 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 2019. Stefanski had just the plan — by using play-action and putting a heavy reliance on the Browns' run game, Mayfield could stretch the field and find bigger plays.

It worked, and by the end of a season full of postponed practices and navigating through coaching obstacles due to COVID-19, the trust between Mayfield and Stefanski couldn't have been stronger. 

"I think Baker definitely became more comfortable in what we were doing," Stefanski said Tuesday, "but I would tell you that I became more comfortable with his skillset. I just think it was the natural evolution of us as an offense as we all learned about each other a little bit more."

The Stefanski-Mayfield connection brought plenty of anticipation before the 2020 season, but there should be even more excitement for their potential in 2021.

Mayfield has never worked through an offseason with the same head coach from the previous year. His first three years in the NFL have always required him to shake hands with a new head coach, learn their playbook from scratch and build a level of chemistry that can endure the highs and lows of a full season. 

The constant change was never optimal for Mayfield, the first overall pick of 2018, but now it's over. Stefanski and Mayfield can dedicate a full offseason toward reviewing tape, refining the playbook and finding ways to grow next season.

"I know he can continue to get better," Stefanski said. "He is another person who is eager to get better. He is chomping at the bit. When he walks in this building or we virtually see him next, we will make sure that we outline some things that he can improve on. I think you all know this about Baker — he works really, really hard at his craft. When you do that, you have a chance."

For Berry, Stefanski and Mayfield, the continuity provides benefits for all. Berry doesn't have to stress over the most important position on his roster. Stefanski doesn't have to teach a full playbook to his most important player. Mayfield doesn't have to build a new relationship with his most important coach.

It's the scenario the Browns have sought for nearly two decades. After a special year from Mayfield last season, they finally have it.