'Wise beyond his years': 30-year-old Andrew Berry playing key role in Browns' reshaping

A little more than a week after the NFL Draft, Andrew Berry is set to give something of a state-of-the-franchise address at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's weekly luncheon roughly an hour south of the Browns' Berea headquarters.

Berry, whom the club hired as its vice president of player personnel two Februarys ago after he spent seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, oversees Cleveland's scouting efforts and effectively touches every member of the roster.

And this time of year, of course, casts Berry — a 30-year-old, Harvard-educated standout who chose football over a career on Wall Street — into the spotlight as the Browns rebuild their roster from the ground up. And on this spring day, there's a lot to talk about following a promising draft class that includes No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, whom the team views as a cornerstone player for years to come.

"We feel like we are very well-positioned in terms of adding young talent to the roster and improving the team, building a team that can consistently compete for championships on a year in, year out basis," Berry tells the audience.

For the next hour, he breaks down film and holds a town hall forum where he fields some tough questions and addresses them head on.

Poised, sincere and thorough, Berry is no stranger to Cleveland's past struggles. He is, after all, here to help fix them.

But most of all, it becomes apparent during this session how Berry embodies what the Browns want to be on and off the field.

"I'll be honest," Browns owner Jimmy Haslam added at the NFL's Annual Meeting in March, "I don't think people give Andrew Berry enough credit."

Sashi Brown, the team's executive vice president of football operations, echoed the same thing earlier this summer.

"We're really building an organization for the long haul," he said, "and we wanted a guy that represented the kind of the values that are most important for our organization, whether it's on the football field, or the front office, or in the community … that integrity and character jumped off the page."

Along with Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and head coach Hue Jackson, Berry played a critical role in shaping the Browns' 53-man roster this past weekend. And at 30 years old, he's the youngest member of the team's executive leadership team and one of the youngest executives in the NFL.

But you wouldn't gather that from meeting him.

"At some point in the process, you know you go through and set your expectations based on the demographic background you can do on a person," said Brown, who played a key role in bringing Berry to Cleveland shortly after he was promoted to oversee the team's football operations.

"OK, this guy is 29 years old, and you kind of lower your expectations for various things – savvy, expertise, wisdom, the way he's going to carry himself and professional maturity. By the end of the process, we had completely forgotten his age because he was wise beyond his years, professional beyond his years.

"It was funny," Brown continued, laughing, "as we decided that this was probably the guy, it came back to us like: 'Wait — this guy is how old?''

Indeed, Berry's resume speaks for itself. He graduated from Harvard with two degrees (a bachelor's in economics and masters in computer science) in four years all while playing cornerback at an All-Ivy League level.  

He was also one of five finalists for the John Wooden Citizenship Cup — awarded to the nation's highest-achieving student-athlete who best displays character, teamwork, and citizenship — a finalist for the Draddy Trophy (the national scholar-athlete of the year) and the 2009 Football Championship Subdivision Athletic Director Association Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Had Berry not pursued a career in the NFL, he would have almost certainly found success in another walk of life.  Football, though, always seemed to be a calling.  It's why he passed on a job at Goldman Sachs in New York City following his senior year and instead accepted an entry-level position with the Colts.

"Ever since I was little, I just loved football," he said. "I didn't know anything about scouting and personnel coming out of college, so I think it was more of a function of learning about what I would want to do in the profession because there was a part where I always thought that I would go into coaching," said Berry, who added his college coach discouraged him from being a coach because of the demands of the job.

Working in an NFL front office, though, poses similar challenges. Entry-level positions in scouting demand early mornings, long nights and countless hours of watching film. Climbing the ranks can prove equally grueling, as scouts often find themselves on the road for most of the year, traveling from college town to college town in search of top-flight prospects.

None of that discouraged Berry. He packed up his life into a 1993 Acura Legend and trekked some 600 miles from his hometown of Bel Air, Maryland, to Indianapolis.

"I just felt the ability to build an entire football operation and construct a team from all facets — whether it's pro scouting or college scouting, the financial implications, the strategic implications — was just pretty cool," he said. "And really I've been happy with the decision since the day I started."

"I actually drove out with my dad because he was just so excited to see the complex and everything, and I'll never forget the car died when we got to the hotel," Berry added, laughing. "We were really fortunate it didn't break down on us throughout the eight-hour drive. So the first thought is like, 'how do we have a car that can get to work my first day on Monday?' But really the trip was one of excitement and anticipation because it was something so new and exciting and I didn't know what to expect."

It turned into seven seasons, the last four of which Berry spent as the Colts' pro scouting coordinator. It was a span that saw Indianapolis capture four AFC South titles, five postseason appearances and an appearance in Super Bowl XLIV.

And two winters ago, when the Browns were narrowing down a pool of candidates, Berry stood out as the right person for the job.

"I think Jimmy and I have a pretty good sense of someone's raw talent," Brown said. "What's your makeup? What's your technical expertise? How serious are you about something? All those go into it, but really, what's this guy? How much upside does he have?

"And that's what jumped out to us about Andrew."

Since Berry joined the Browns, the roster has been fundamentally reshaped.  Over the past two years, they've added 24 draft picks — including four first-rounders — and are set to add five more players in the top two rounds in 2018.

After a 1-15 season that saw the league's youngest roster struggle to stay above water, it's an exciting time in Berea, where — if you look closely enough — you'll see the beginnings of a larger blueprint starting to come into the frame.

"Every team would love to believe that their roster could be young, and in their prime like in perpetuity. Realistically, that's not the case for any NFL team or any sports franchise period," Berry said.

"So for us, coming out of 2015 and realizing we were old, expensive and really a non-performing roster, non-performing team, required maybe kind of that painful readjustment as we tried to not only add young talent, but accumulate the resources necessary to do that aggressively over the next couple of years, and that's a continual process."

"Our goal is to win football games at the end of the day," Berry adds, "but also having the understanding that that progression isn't always linear."

In other words, sometimes you have to take a step backward to move forward.  But there has been a pivot in the past six months, converting a cache of assets into players who fill real roles and needs.

"The shift is now that we have a number of those resources to do that is actually just like executing and using them to acquire the players that we seek and select the skillsets that we think are necessary to allow us to have long term success in all three phases," Berry says.

For example, the Browns acquired Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins via a midseason trade and then convinced the former Patriots star to re-sign less than a month after the season. They fortified their offensive line by adding two of the league's best young players in former Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler and Packers center JC Tretter. In May, they curated a draft class that includes Garrett, former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers (25th overall) and Miami tight end David Njoku (29th overall), and Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer.

Before a captivated audience in Canton, Berry — who helped bring each of them to Cleveland — breaks down their film as the audience oohs and awes.

"I could immediately tell on the phone that, 'OK, this guy is really intriguing,'" Brown says, snapping his fingers.

"He's thoughtful. He's organized. He's got some real depth to him. His integrity comes out in everything he does."

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