Berry aims to 'aggressively' make Browns a winner


Andrew Berry is back in Cleveland, this time as the Browns' general manager.

It was less than a year ago that he was walking from office to office in the team's Berea facility, giving staffers his personal goodbyes on his last day before heading to Philadelphia to join the Eagles' front office. And it was less than three years ago that the team for which he worked was preparing for what ultimately turned out to be an 0-16 campaign.

Those days are gone now, Berry stressed Wednesday during his introductory press conference at the team's facility. Those Browns (listless, lacking in much of anything, focused on accruing future assets) are not these Browns (talented, promising, looking to build aggressively).

"If there's anything that I want to be defined by, it's by aggression," Berry said Wednesday. "We want to aggressively acquire talent, because that's the name of the game from an NFL front office perspective. We're going to explore every avenue that enables us to do that."

Sure, Berry comes from a background that includes three years spent in Cleveland under Sashi Brown. He did not shy away from the massive teardown the Browns executed during that regime, one that ultimately got Brown and coach Hue Jackson fired. But Berry survived the firing of Brown, sticking around in Cleveland's front office under new GM John Dorsey before ultimately heading to a better opportunity to work under whom Berry considers to be "the best GM" in the NFL in Howie Roseman.

As the Dorsey-built city of wonders burned in 2019, so went coach Freddie Kitchens and Dorsey, as well as lieutenants Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith. In came new coach Kevin Stefanski, and shortly after, Berry returned to take the seat left behind by Dorsey, armed with new wisdom gained from his short time with Roseman.

At 32 years old, Berry is the youngest GM in NFL history. He's not back to purge the franchise in a Sashi Brown 2.0 regime, because these Browns do not need such a house-cleaning.

"The reality of it is that stretch was a very painful period for our fans, for the city and for everybody internally in the organization," Berry said of the Browns' 1-31 run from 2016-2017. "I can assure you that all of us that were there during that time period, we were equally disappointed with the results during that time.

"The one thing I can say is the team, the organization is at a much different state than it was heading into that 2016 season. Whether it's the foundation of the roster, the overall strategy -- it's no secret that the strategy at the time was to accumulate assets, whether it's cap space, picks and players that would lead to a foundation of long-term success -- but I can assure you that winning is at the forefront of everyone's minds in the organization and we're looking forward to pursuing over the next several months."

Berry stressed collaboration, as have owner Jimmy Haslam and Stefanski. The term came up again in an interesting form for those worried about draft picks made during Berry's first stint in Cleveland. When asked about the team's selection of first-round bust Corey Coleman and the decision to pass on both Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz, Berry didn't go into specifics about how those decisions were made when he was one of the leading decision-makers of the group, but noted the "collaborative environment with the aim of getting the best information on the table."

He then said that while he can share credit for success and has to shoulder some culpability for the failures brought on by decisions made by the group, he also made one key statement: "I am looking forward to certainly establishing my own track record as the primary decision-maker moving forward."

It was almost as if he were saying look, we worked together, but I didn't necessarily agree with every decision made, and now you'll know these decisions will be coming from me.

"We certainly have a very strong foundation upon which to build," Berry said, "but that doesn't mean that we don't have work to do and it doesn't mean that we're not going to add competition and talent really across every position."

Such decisions begin with the upcoming free agency period as well as the pre-draft process ahead of April's annual injection of new talent. The Browns hold the 10th overall pick in the draft and will need to address a few key areas (offensive tackle, linebacker, both safety positions and defensive line and cornerback depth among them), but only after making decisions on impending free agency related to players such as Joe Schobert, Damarious Randall and Rashard Higgins before deciding to pursue external talent.

The prevailing theme Wednesday: With Berry now in charge of the 53-man roster and working with Stefanski on roster construction, the Browns are looking to win now. A teardown is not imminent. The Browns are not looking to rebuild, but are looking to carry over the tight-knit environment between front office, coaches and players that he enjoyed in his brief time in Philadelphia.

That has to be refreshing and relieving for the Haslams, who have too often seen their organization fall victim to infighting. That won't be the case, Berry said, with this group. Instead, they're pushing forward together to create a winner in a city starved of one.

"It can't just be corporate speak or talk," Berry said. "It has to be something that we demonstrate in action on a daily basis and we understand that that's part of our responsibilities and that's something that we're going to work together to do every day."

As the league's youngest GM, Berry has plenty of road ahead to work with. The Browns are aiming to establish continuity for the first time since the Haslams purchased the team in 2012, awarding each five-year deals (per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport). Their time together began last week with Berry's hiring and continues with their work toward collectively moving forward with one shared vision toward success.

"A big part of what we've done is really creating a vision and a standard way to operate within football operations and within player personnel," Berry said. "I think that's so important, so before we go off sprinting during this offseason, we're all moving in the same direction and operating in the ideal way."

We'll see by the end of 2020 if this is finally the group that can avoid the pitfalls and produce winning football along the shore of Lake Erie.