Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry (4.21.23)

Opening statement:

“This is a pretty fun week for us in Berea. It is a little bit like the first week of school. We have most of our players back in the building, get a chance to work with the coaching staff to lay a really strong foundation this spring that will hopefully catapult us as we enter the fall. The other aspect is, it is the week before the draft, we are doing our final preparations with the board, strategically getting ready for next weekend. So before I open it up for questions–I actually want to start with a number of thank you’s. It really starts with our college scouts–I know you guys hear me thank our scouts really every time with the pre-draft press conference, but I think it is really important that those individuals who are behind the scenes in a relatively thankless job get their due credit publicly. These men and women spend a ton of time away from their families, a ton of time in hotels, they really grind to travel the country to identify as many players as possible that will fit us here in Cleveland and get to know them as both players and people. They just really make a ton of sacrifices for us organizationally, so I just want to say thank you to that group. Also, say thank you to our research and strategy group does an excellent job of really integrating all of our information across a number of different perspectives to help us as we build the board. I also want to say thank you to our coaching staff, they do a really nice job of identifying developmental areas for certain prospects and really identifying how they will be utilized if they were members of our team. I would actually like to highlight (assistant head coach/special teams coordinator) Bubba (Ventrone) and (defensive coordinator) Jim (Schwartz). I think it can be easy to underappreciate how hard it is when you are transitioning to a new team as a coach when you are getting to know new staff, you are implementing a new system, you are trying to get prepared for the players are back in the building and then on top of that you have some personnel work as well. The whole coaching staff did a really nice job for us. I wanted to highlight Bubba and Jim, just given the fact that their first few months on the job have been a bit of a sprint.”

On how the team’s offseason and free agency shifted priorities headed into the Draft:

“It would be disingenuous to say it does not have some impact, but we do really look at those two specific ways to acquire players. Certainly, free agency is about fulfilling immediate needs. The draft, we look at it as more longer-term planning and, ultimately, trying to maximize talent. I think especially when you’re in the situation that we’re in, where we’re picking later in the draft, it’s not like we can really dictate it. When you’re at the top of the draft, you can dictate it to a degree. I think it’s important for us to remain flexible and make sure our first priority is to maximizing the talent we can add to the team.”


On the move’s made last season and expectations for this coming season:

“I think every general manager in this sport has to have a foot in the present and a foot in the future. That really won’t change now. Maybe how much of your body is leaning present versus future may change as your team either matures or ages out or if they’re really young. Certainly, we believe we have a group of players that will allow us to be competitive in the fall, but that does not mean you punt or don’t consider future years in your planning.”


On a DT Perrion Winfrey update:

“It’s a ending legal matter, so I won’t comment on the specifics of that, other than to say that Perrion understands what our expectations are for all players, whether they’re on the field or in the building.”


On if Winfrey is present:

“Yeah, so we haven’t made any changes in terms of his roster status, but I’m not going to say anything further.”


On if other information about Winfrey comes out:

“Like I said, I’m not getting into the specifics, but we’ll deal with that matter internally and make the appropriate decision for the organization.”


On if drafted rookies can fill needs that are still there:

“Bill Polian always used to say when I was a scouting assistant, ‘Your needs today aren’t your needs tomorrow.’ I don’t know that I ever feel really settled in terms of addressing needs. Ideally, you want to be in a position as a roster where you’re not relying on rookies to have major roles. Every roster in the NFL will have strengths and weaknesses. There is no perfect roster. There are going to be spots where you maybe rely a little more on younger players, than organizationally you desire. We really want to make sure that as we’re in this lifecycle of the team, we’re in a position where younger players can maybe intergrade into the NFL and develop in the NFL at maybe more of an appropriate pace.”


On being more prepared this year:

“I think it’s less about a reflection from last year. I think the circumstances for why we are picking and why our first pick as of today is in the third round, are different. Last year, we felt compelled to move back because we liked the group of players. Obviously, starting with CB Martin Emerson Jr. in that range of the draft. We thought we were able to pick up additional assets that would help us from a volume perspective with that draft. This year, we were opportunistic at the wide receiver position. I can’t say that we went into this offseason saying that we were going to have a second-round pick. I can’t say I thought that even last year, so maybe the learning so to speak is just about remaining flexible and openminded as things develop. We want to be organized and have a plan moving forward, but plans change and it never goes 100 percent according to plan and if you don’t have enough flexibility or ability to pivot, you can’t be too dogmatic and to stubborn because then you are going to be in a tough spot.”


On comparing talent level of the team from 2020 to now:

“We are pleased with the progress of the team. I wouldn’t say otherwise. We liked a lot of the guys that we’ve added over the past couple years and feel fortunate to have been able to retain a lot of the guys that have grown over the past three years. I don’t know that I have a direct objective comparison for you to be honest, just because quite honestly, we haven’t hit the grass yet. I think all 32 teams are probably pretty optimistic this time of year. We certainly are with the group of individuals that we currently have in the locker room and view this upcoming week as a chance to add to that group.”


On if five defensive ends are enough to go into camp:

“No, I would expect us to add more. I mean, we are going to get to 90 eventually. I can’t say that it is going to be on draft weekend or in May or in August, but I would expect us to add to that room.


On ruling out veteran:

“I wouldn’t rule out anything. I think one thing I’ve been pretty consistent about is that any way that we can acquire someone who can help the team that we’ll be openminded to us, as long as it matches our priorities and it matches the resources we have at our disposal.”


On making trades during the draft:

“Honestly, a little bit of a mix. There have been certain points where we thought based on what we anticipated the board to look like, where we might have been looking for an escape hatch or we may be interested in trading up. There are plenty of other situations where we have a player that we like and then you get a call a couple picks away or on Friday or Saturday morning or early afternoon. Here’s an opportunity that we have discussed in generalities when we were doing our strategy planning, but we didn’t necessarily anticipate what would actually come available to us and then you consider it a little bit differently.”


On going all in on QB Deshaun Watson and picking up players in free agency:

“We like the group of guys that we brought in. I’ll start with the defensive lineman, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, we think he has a very well-rounded skillset to really anchor the middle line of scrimmage for us. Versatile player that has played in an even front, has played in an odd front, we really like the fit with us. DE Ogbo Okoronkwo is an athletic, quick speed rusher for us that really fits the mold of players that we like at defensive end. S Juan Thornhill, who we signed as a classic free safety, corner background, has good ball skills. Has played with a really strong secondary in Kansas City. There are a number of guys we added to the receiver room, whether it’s WR Marquise Goodwin, who adds vertical speed for us. WR Elijah Moore, who we traded for that we think has a very diverse skillset, really excellent hands. TE Jordan Akins, who is really good tight end that we think could be a mismatch in the passing game. I know I mentioned a number of guys. There are some that probably are not necessarily highlighting.


On receivers and tight ends opening up the offense more:

“I think the more skillsets that you have with your pass catchers, the more diversity you can add to our offense. We are excited about the playmakers we currently have. That doesn’t mean we can’t add to it over the coming months, but we think we have a good group right now.”


On three QBs coming in on 30 visits and interest in adding to the room:

“Thirty visits in general for us is about accumulating more information. Teams use them in different ways and for us as we think through what easily ends up being about 125 guys on the board, we just want to make sure that we have everything on all the guys, because you just don’t know what the possibilities are going to be that the individual falls to you. Certainly, with quarterbacks, we like to spend a lot of time with them and we try to do that appropriately over the course of the spring and in different venues. It’s the most important position in sports and no different than adding depth and competition at receiver or defensive line or corner or linebacker or offensive line. We are going to do the same thing at quarterback.”


On if the roster has room for eight rookie draft picks in it:

“I don’t know that I could make that comment today. I think hype, like in generalities, yes, if they perform. But you know I think each year is a little bit different in that regard. Who knows? You get wiped out because of injury in camp or a guy surprises you in either direction, it may change how you think about adding youth to the roster. We don’t really go into it with the mentality of ‘can seven or eight guys make the team?’ How does that dictate the nine. There are some years that we started off with seven and ended up with six. I think a lot can happen between certainly now and the end of the weekend, but also now and when you start the season.”


On the running backs room and if he is shutting the door on bringing back RB Kareem Hunt:

“I don’t know that we’ve necessarily shut the door on anything. Look, we’re not playing games until September, so we’ll remain openminded to anything that can help the team. We like the room that we have, obviously, (RB) Nick (Chubb) leads it. Pleased with (RB) Jerome’s (Ford) progress over the last year.  (RB) John Kelly, (RB Nate) McCreary, (RB) Demetric (Felton), taking reps there. We feel like we have a variety of skillsets that wouldn’t exclude us from adding someone this upcoming weekend at that position. We just have to see how the board shakes out.”


On the factors that he weighs when making a trade:  

“I think there are a couple of things. I think, certainly in no particular order, positional value in need. Does it actually fit how your roster is currently constructed? The scarcity of the skillset for the particular player, and then I would say both the resource cost and the financial cost. For us, with (WR) Elijah (Moore), we saw a guy who was 22-year-old receiver that could separate, had speed, good hands. His skillset would fit a need that we thought we had on the roster. He’s still on his rookie deal and we thought the draft-pick compensation was appropriate, while still maintaining our volume in 2023. We thought it was a good fit for us, a good opportunity for us. I’ve mentioned before, I can’t say that we foresaw that maybe coming into January, February. It was just a place where we thought we could be opportunistic and match resources to opportunities.”


On how he evaluates players, especially on the older end of the scale: 

“I think we had talked about this maybe a little bit at the combine. Age isn’t the end all, be all. We try and make sure that we apply context to any player on our board or any player that we may draft. We wouldn’t necessarily treat, you know, a COVID senior in the same way that we would, five or six years ago. Each situation is specific to the to the person. I guess maybe a longwinded way of saying that we take it on a case-by-case basis.”


On how important it was to bring back (QB) Joshua Dobbs:

“I think that was a big one for us, like backup quarterback–I think as everyone has seen over the past three seasons, has been something that we’ve prioritized. Again, it’s the most important position in sports. Having (QB) Case (Keenum) in 2020 and 2021, having (QB) Jacoby (Brissett) last year, you just never know. Josh is a guy that we felt very comfortable with his development last year. We know his makeup, the relationship between the starter and backup is really important in that room. We really thought that he really fit like a glove.”


On the decision on picking up T Jedrick Wills Jr.’s fifth-year option:

“I think you know that I don’t really talk about contracts or those decisions in this setting. You guys will certainly know before May 2 and we’re pleased with Jed.”

On so many guys coming off of injury and where they stand heading into camp:

“All of our guys who have suffered injury in the linebacker room, they have done a phenomenal job with their rehab. We feel like they’re all pacing well and appropriately in the recovery from their injuries. I think they’re going to be ready to go. We’ll always look to add competition and that room is not excluded from that. Certainly, there is a little bit of variance on how guys do come back from injuries, we’re not naïve to that. With all that being said, the progress that those individuals have made, we are very pleased at this point in time.”


On the state of the roster and if he’s inclined to trade up:

“That’s a good question. I think it’s more situationally dependent on how the board falls quite honestly. Ultimately, what is the acquisition cost to move up from 74 to the third pick in the draft? I wouldn’t say there is a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, because we look at the draft more through a long-term lens, we probably in general would be more apt to move back than necessarily move up. I wouldn’t say that we would be exclusively tied to that decision-making thought process.


On when the idea of drafting Emerson Jr. crystalized last year:

“He was a guy that we had identified as being a player that we certainly liked and being a player that could be around our selection of picks. When you think of a draft board, like hey we may have 125 players and you may like a lot of them. The reality is the subset of players you actually end up focusing on is even smaller than that. Look, I love Will Anderson and if he drops to 74, we’ll take him, but we know that is not going to happen. As you think about who are the players that we really like that could actually be available at our picks and would match based on how you value certain positions or certain player risk profiles, whether it’s skillset injury or whatever, all of that plays into it. So going back to Martin, he was one of those players that even before we traded out of 44, that we thought we would have a chance at potentially on Day 2 that we really liked. Then, fortunately, it just worked out when we traded back.”


On taking a shot on guys in the draft:

“I don’t know that I think of our roster status as being so unique that we would pivot significantly from the type of risks we think are appropriate in certain rounds versus not.


On if he feels free to go after guys he likes now that needs have been addressed in free agency:

“I don’t want to suggest you literally operate in a vacuum. There is some interaction, but our belief is that it’s not so much–you want to come out of the draft with good players, unique players, special players, special traits. That is the overarching philosophy, because I think the reality is if you’re in a position where you’re looking for a rookie to fill a need in Year 1, that’s not really an ideal position to be in. I think probably every roster to some degree probably has some of that. There are only so many players and you have to fix resources. We want to try our best to make sure we’re not in those spots. We don’t want to be so rigid that we end up passing up a good player just because we think we can select a guy that can fill a perceived need.”


On the percentage of third through fifth-round selections that become NFL starters:  

“It’s actually a very small percent and I won’t quote the exact percentage, but it’s a very small percent. You’re probably a little bit more inclined to get, let’s say rotational players or high-level backups. That’s not to say that you shoot or try and organize your board for the amount of draws that you can have for more than that. It’s also probably a reason for us, where as we get into, let’s say the middle rounds or the later rounds, we really do look for individuals or players that have unique characteristics, whether it’s a skill or a trait. My scouts will laugh, I’ll tell you the story–we always talk about horses versus geese. A goose, it can walk, it can fly, it can run, but it waddles when it walks. It doesn’t really fly really high and it doesn’t run real fast. Aa horse, it can’t swim, it can’t fly, but it’s a really great runner. If we were talking about players, we would take horse traits, because if we’re putting together a roster, we’d ideally like a player that can be above average in some way. Even if it’s a very narrow sense, because when you put together the team, the aggregate allows you to maybe the cover of the skillset you have. A perfect example would be in the receiver room, right? (WR) Marquise Goodwin, he’s a smaller guy, but he’s got elite speed and really good tracking ability. (WR) Donovan Peoples-Jones, he’s a bigger, stronger receiver. Maybe not quite as fast as some of the others, but he’s got great hands and great size. You can combine those skillsets within that position group and give yourself enough diversity in the offense to execute a number of different concepts.”


On if WR Jakeem Grant is coming back to be a returner or if they need to be thinking about that spot:

“I think it’s very realistic. No different than offense or defense, we would add competition to the kicking game. I would really like to commend Jakeem in terms of how he has approached his rehab since last August. He stayed in the building all season. He may sleep at the building, honestly. He’s doing really well and I know all of us are optimistic that he’ll be back to his normal self. We’re all really rooting for him.”

On how key it will be to get LB Anthony Walker Jr. back from injury:

“I think with Anthony in particular, I think everybody who has been around the team understands how important he is, in terms of not only his play, but his leadership and communication skills. I think that one speaks for itself. With (LB) Sione (Takitaki), I think the added experience that he was able to get last season playing multiple spots and doing a really nice job, until he got hurt. The silver lining to the injuries is that we enter this year with more depth, in terms of that communicator spot. We are very excited to have both of those individuals back on the team.”


On how he handles the process of finding red flags in the draft process:

“I think we go into it being realistic that every player or staff member that we bring into the organization will have different strengths and weaknesses. Different professional strengths and weaknesses, different personal strengths and weaknesses. Part of our job, organizationally, with the resources we have at our disposal and the support staff that we hire, is to be able to support individuals. That is not just supporting players through the on-field-development process, but ultimately, we want to get to a point whether our players are successful or unsuccessful on the field with us–we like them whenever they do leave the organization–whether it is 10 days or 10 years, for them not to only have improved as players, but also to have improved as people and professionals. That is an area where we have invested a lot of resources, a lot of headcount. We are not an organization of perfect people and we never will be. At the same time, we want to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure that people are supported and developed while they are under our watch.”


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