Browns Make Final Call on GM Andrew Berry, HC Kevin Stefanski: Report

Deshaun Watson Browns

Getty Quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns is introduced by general manager Andrew Berry (left) and head coach Kevin Stefanski (right).

What a difference one winning season makes.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was firmly in the hot seat heading into the 2023 campaign after a 7-10 effort the year prior and two consecutive losing seasons. Questions also surrounded general manager Andrew Berry mortgaging the franchise’s future to acquire quarterback Deshaun Watson — who played just six games in 2022, most of them poorly — then spending massively on the defense.

Watson didn’t get a great deal better last year and played just six games again due to season-ending shoulder surgery. But the Browns finished the campaign with the top-rated defense in football based on total yards surrendered and navigated five different starting quarterbacks on their way to 11 wins and a spot in the AFC playoffs.

Stefanski won the NFL’s Coach of the Year Award, and he and Berry now appear in line for extensions based on reporting from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler in Las Vegas one day ahead of the Super Bowl.

“Expect contract extensions to occur for Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry sometime this offseason,” Fowler wrote on Saturday, February 10. “Both have matching five-year deals that are set to expire after the 2024 season. They performed well this past year to execute a playoff push, and all signs point to them being in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.”

Browns QB Joe Flacco Earned Kevin Stefanski, Andrew Berry Their Coming Extensions

Joe Flacco provided valuable experience on the field for the Browns and Kevin Stefanski.

GettyCleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Cleveland’s late-season success and playoff run was quarterback Joe Flacco, who won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award on the same night that Stefanski earned his honor.

Flacco finished the year 4-1 as a regular-season starter with 1,616 passing yards, 13 TDs and 8 INTs, per Pro Football Reference. That production came on a $2.5 million contract after unsuccessful starting stints for backup quarterbacks PJ Walker and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Berry deserves some credit for adding Flacco on a good contract, while Stefanski deserves some credit for how he deployed the quarterback and took advantage of his talents for play-action passing and pushing the football downfield. That said, the futures of both men wouldn’t likely be so secure if they hadn’t gotten a little lucky and rode the Flacco wave to the top Wildcard spot in the conference.

Deshaun Watson Black Eye on Browns’ Decision Making Over Past 2 Years

Ken Dorsey describing Browns QB Deshaun Watson as a 'quality human being' didn't sit well with some.

GettyCleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The real issue for the Browns in 2024 and the two seasons beyond is going to be Watson and his $230 million fully-guaranteed contract. The salary cap hit on that deal jumps to $64 million annually next season, where it will remain for the life of the agreement.

Cleveland can push around $33 million of that money off into the future, where it will eventually weigh down the Browns’ salary cap as a massive dead money hit. The deal Berry gave to Watson and the trade he made with the Houston Texans to acquire him that included three first-round picks (2022, 2023, 2024) are far and away the two biggest marks against his tenure in Cleveland.

Because of his contract, Watson is in line to start for the Browns to begin next season despite how well Flacco vibed with the fans and his teammates, not to mention how well he played down the stretch. That is ostensibly Stefanski’s call, though the wild investment the franchise as a whole made in Watson two years ago inevitably plays a role in all of the head coach’s decisions where the quarterback is concerned.

The 2024 campaign will be a make-or-break situation for Watson and, by extension, the entire direction of the organization as well. He must stay on the field and play well. The Browns must be competitive in the AFC North Division and return to the playoffs.

If those things don’t happen, Berry and Stefanski have a responsibility to the fanbase to admit their mistake and move on. And if Berry and Stefanski don’t make those acknowledgements and the subsequent changes — should they prove necessary — the two leaders may not be long for Cleveland, regardless of the types of extensions they sign in the coming months.

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