It’s Clear Now: Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski Were Right for the Browns (2024)

NFL minicamp season is here, and so are this week’s takeaways …

Jimmy and Dee Haslam were right in 2020. Take a good look at where the Cleveland Browns were going into that offseason. It’d been 12 years since the last time they had finished .500 or better, 17 years since their last playoff appearance and 25 years since their last playoff win. They were hiring their fifth head coach and fifth general manager in eight offseasons. During that span, they had 0–16, 1–15, 3–13 and 4–12 records, and a raft of high first-round picks washed out.

There was plenty of reason to doubt the Haslams, who were installed as owners midway through the 2012 season, going into the first offseason of that stretch.

I did, and it turns out I was wrong.

In January 2020, I thought the right thing for Cleveland would be to bring home a couple of locally bred New England Patriots guys—Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler—to change the face of the organization. I thought, at the time, that the direction the Haslams chose was really just more of the same, since they were, essentially, doubling down on Paul DePodesta, the baseball executive that they’d hired in ’16.

To that point, DePodesta had been seen as a lightning rod in the organization, and emblematic of the four-year squabble between the traditional football and the analytics people in the organization. He was also one reason why the Haslams shied away from McDaniels. who’d advocated for restructuring in a way that minimized DePodesta.

At the time, it at least looked like going the other way, and hiring Andrew Berry from the Philadelphia Eagles as GM and Kevin Stefanski from the Minnesota Vikings as coach, was pushed by DePodesta as a measure of self-preservation. After all, Stefanski’s candidacy was, at least in part, a result of how he’d interviewed the previous January, impressing DePodesta and, among others, Berry, who was in Cleveland from 2016 to ’18 but would leave for Philly four months later. Berry liked Stefanski so much, in fact, that the two resolved to stay in touch, with an eye on working together in the future.

That the Haslams hired them in tandem the following January, to me at least, felt like more of the same for a lost franchise. It was nothing against Berry or Stefanski—I liked both. It was just that, at least on the surface, this was a team that needed a detonation, not a double-down.

Good for the Haslams ignoring the outside noise.

Turns out, they were right about Berry, whom he’d had in his building for three seasons and had become one of the best GMs in football and is still just 37. And Berry was right about Stefanski, who’d done enough to get two interviews in Cleveland in 2019, a year before he’d land the job, despite not even having had a full year of coordinator experience at that point.

They haven’t gotten everything right, but they’ve stabilized the league’s unstable franchise, and the future is bright in Cleveland. They’ve made the playoffs twice already. Last year, they got there by winning games with four different quarterbacks, their fourth and fifth tackles starting, and a ton of injuries on defense (particularly in the secondary), as well.

So, now, they’ve been rewarded with extensions—Stefanski is actually the first head coach to land one in Cleveland since Bill Belichick in the early ’90s. And rightfully so.

Drew Lock is a sneaky important figure this week. The sixth-year quarterback has had a nice spring with the New York Giants—taking steps over time to improve, and flashing things he did in his two years as a Seahawks reclamation project. Seattle, in fact, really felt like it had something in Lock, even as Geno Smith’s backup the past two years.

He’ll also get the first-team reps at minicamp, presumably acting as the starter for the last time before Daniel Jones, who tore his ACL in November, returns to the practice field for training camp at the end of July.

So without stirring things up too much, let’s look at the facts here …

• Yes, Jones will cost the Giants $36 million in cash this fall. But at this point, that number’s locked in, and a sunk cost from the four-year deal the team signed him to in February 2023. He also only has injury guarantees past ’24. Which means the Giants can make a clean break if they see fit after the season, and will only have to pay a tax on that if Jones can’t pass a physical next March.

• The Giants offered their 2025 first-round pick to move up from the sixth to the third pick in the NFL draft in an effort to land North Carolina QB Drake Maye. They were rebuffed by the Patriots, and took receiver Malik Nabers rather than reach for J.J. McCarthy or Michael Penix Jr. While they weren’t desperate to move on from Jones, they certainly aren’t married to seeing his contract through, either.

• Lock has a lot of talent, and, at 27 years old, is actually six months younger than Jones. The two were in the same draft class, and GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll were part of a similar reclamation project three years ago in Buffalo, when Daboll did enough with Mitch Trubisky to help him land a chance to start in Pittsburgh in 2022. Bottom line: The Giants knew what they were doing when they acquired Lock in March.

And, now, with the spring under his belt, Lock has one last chance to make an impression.

It seems unlikely it’d afford him a chance to actively compete for the starting job when camp gets going in six weeks or so. But if Jones stumbles in August or September or October? That’s where a strong showing from Lock now, so long as he builds on it in the summer, would be remembered.

Stay tuned.

It’s Clear Now: Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski Were Right for the Browns (1)

While we’re there, here’s hoping for the best for Darren Waller. The retiring Giants tight end’s struggles have been well documented, and he opened up in a video announcing his decision to retire from the sport on Sunday based on some more recent issues he’s dealt with.

Without divulging specifics on his condition, Waller said he was hospitalized for three and a half days while he struggled to breathe, stand up, eat and use the restroom.

“I come out of that experience and I’m sitting in the hospital, and I go back into my daily life and I’m like, ‘Pretty clear, I almost just lost my life, and I don’t know if I really feel if I would have died that I would have felt great about how my life was going if I died at that time,’” Waller said on a video on his Instagram page.

The 31-year-old has spoken at length publicly about his issues with addiction.

Waller did say he’s “eternally grateful for the game of football,” but that his passion for the game wasn’t what it has been. That, in fact, was something that those around him had sensed, and was a reason why the Raiders traded him last year after signing him to a blockbuster contract extension in 2022.

The other thing Waller mentioned was all the resources in place for him throughout his struggles, and that, for sure, is a great sign of progress for the league and the sport, particularly since issues of mental health were long taboo in the league.

That he’s able to make the decision to walk away now, with that support in place, is a great thing, too.

Jordan Love’s quote about not having a true No. 1 receiver last week caught my attention. If you missed it, here’s the point the Green Bay Packers quarterback made, in full.

“I think you don’t have to have a No. 1 receiver,” he said. “I think it works out well when you can spread the ball out and you have different guys making different plays and you can put them in different areas. I think it puts a lot more stress on the defense and the calls that they can get in. I think in the long run it helps us not having a No. 1 guy, a true No. 1 guy. But I think all those guys can step up and be the one any given day.”

Love is surrounded by a core of really good young receivers, from Christian Watson to Jayden Reed to Romeo Doubs to Dontayvion Wicks. All four are 25 years of age or younger, all four are homegrown and all four were drafted outside the first round.

And all four are indicative of something the Packers—for all the bellyaching over the years about their lack of investment in the position—have done well forever.

The last time Green Bay spent a first-round pick on a receiver was in 2002. That year, then GM Ron Wolf took Javon Walker, who became a really good player, but also was a bit of a headache before being traded in ’06. So coincidentally or not, they’ve focused more on drafting receivers in the second and third rounds.

That’s where they’ve taken receivers in 19 drafts since, including Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Mongomery, Watson, Doubs and Reed (Wicks was a fifth-rounder). In fact, the only real strikeout in that second- and third-round range for Green Bay at receiver over that span was Amari Rodgers, a 2021 third-rounder out of Clemson who was gone midway through his second season.

It’s a pretty good track record of success, and it looks like the new quarterback in Green Bay may be taking more notice of it than the old quarterback used to.

What Stefon Diggs said about Josh Allen is what’s going to give Keon Coleman his best chance to become a star in Buffalo. There was plenty of speculation on the friction the past couple of years between the Bills’ star quarterback and receiver, but both always maintained they were good with each other. And Diggs drove the point home last week after he was asked for the first time since being traded to Houston about his relationship with Allen.

Diggs called Allen “an intricate piece in my career.”

“Because at that point when I left Minnesota, I was a good player, but I [wanted] more for myself, I felt like I was better than that, that I could be better than that,” Diggs said. “And up to a point I was like, Shoot, I’m gonna bet on myself. And they sent me to Buffalo. I don’t know if they sent me to Buffalo with the kindest intent, but all’s well that ends well. When I got to Buffalo, Josh was my guy. People really understand what it’s like to be out there. He really embraced me, kind of had that Southern hospitality.

“He embraced me, spent a lot of time, and I probably wouldn’t be right here if it wasn’t for him. I got a lot of love for that boy.”

And just as quickly, Allen has embraced Coleman, the 33rd pick in April’s draft out of Florida State. He texted Coleman after the Bills picked him to tell him he was the one Allen quarterback wanted Buffalo to take all along. Since, he’s said, the big-bodied receiver is “what we needed in our offense”, and the chemistry the two are building has been apparent through OTAs.

I don’t know if he'll be a Pro Bowler or anything like that out of the box, but I’d bet on Coleman having a nice rookie year.

The Xavien Howard incident probably takes a free-agent option at corner off the table for a lot of teams. Last week, the ex-Dolphin was accused in a lawsuit of sending sexually explicit content to the then underage son of an ex-girlfriend, according to a court filing obtained Thursday night by The Miami Herald.

Per the filing, Howard sent the content to the son “because [his mother] refused to get an abortion.” The attorneys for a separate woman who sued Howard in 2023—alleging he shared explicit videos of her without her consent—are attempting to have the 18-year-old added to that lawsuit as a plaintiff.

Howard had been on the radar for a number of teams. He was cleared before the draft for football activity after spending much of the offseason rehabbing a foot injury. The feeling had been that he could catch on with a team early in training camp once clubs got a better handle on their depth at the position, or injuries forced needs.

Howard, 31, can still play, if not at the level that made him a first-team All-Pro in 2020, and four-time Pro Bowler for the Dolphins.

But now, after the way last season ended, the idea of signing him gets more complicated.

His hometown Texans have been viewed as a potential landing spot should Jeff Okudah or C.J. Henderson not emerge as a viable starter to play opposite Derek Stingley Jr.

It’s Clear Now: Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski Were Right for the Browns (3)

Tom Brady Night is Wednesday in Foxborough and, honestly, what’s compelling about it now is seeing the interaction between the three pillars on the Patriots dynasty. After the (very) lukewarm toast that Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick shared at the Tom Brady roast, and Brady’s awkward reaction to an Orchids of Asia joke from roastmaster Jeff Ross, any eyes in Boston that aren’t on the Celtics on June 12 will be on those relationships.

And, honestly, I’m good with taking a break from all of this now.

To be clear, Brady deserves as many of these ceremonies as he wants, the Patriots should be (as they are Wednesday) waiving the waiting period for the team Hall of Fame, and I do think the Krafts are doing this with good intentions, giving the fans one more chance to say goodbye. But after that, I think everyone, even the most fervent Patriot fans, will have had their fill until Brady is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2028.

Part of it is, of course, that a lot of it seems forced, because some of the emotions are still raw, and rightfully so. The result is this turning, between Kraft and Belichick, in particular, into this generation’s version of Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, where the principles can play nice, but not completely hide all the existing complications in the relationship.

Eventually, Johnson and Jones got to an amicable place. I hope Belichick and Kraft do, too. It just takes time and, until they have that time, we’re all going to see the obvious.

Which is probably all of this starting to feel a little tired.

Haason Reddick’s handling of the offseason program is a sign of evolving times for veteran players. The 29-year-old (he turns 30 in September) is set to make $14.25 million in the fall. And while it’s good pay for a guy entering his eighth year—after Nick Bosa got what he got—and Reddick reeled off four consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks, you can understand why he’d want another bite of the financial apple.

But I’d say there’s more to this one than just that.

In being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the New York Jets, Reddick gained a measure of leverage—in that the contract he signed wasn’t to play for his new team, but to play in Philly. So without relationships established, and with the Jets having imported him to replace Bryce Huff in the defensive-line rotation, Reddick is in a position to ask for an increase.

And players in 2024 are wiser to use that leverage when they have it. It’s why A.J. Brown’s contract was redone the by Eagles (which is a dressed-up $12 million bump over the next three years), Travis Kelce got his in Kansas City (a straight $4 million raise, plus guarantees) and Christian McCaffrey was rewarded in San Francisco (an extra $4 million this year, and an extra $4 million next year).

All came to terms with the simple fact that, just as a team would have no qualms in going to them to ask for money back if their performance slipped, there’s no reason they shouldn’t ask for more—given their short earning window—when they have the power to get it.

On the other side of this equation, you see Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley, Chargers pass rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, and Browns running back Nick Chubb taking less money just to stay where they are. As such, no player should ever have to apologize for turning those tables on the team, and rejecting the premise that they’re taking from anyone else on the roster when they’re asking for more.

Clearly, Reddick gets that.

It’s Clear Now: Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski Were Right for the Browns (4)

The fact that McCaffrey’s deal got done early shouldn’t be ignored. Again, the San Francisco 49ers gave him raises to $16 million this year and $16.2 million next year. He also added de facto team options of $12.5 million in 2026, and $17.5 in ’27.

The reality is, after what he’s accomplished and where the market for skill players has gone (not just running backs), McCaffrey wasn’t going to play at the existing numbers on the deal. And getting that taken care of now allows the Niners to navigate their receiver situation without creating any sort of collateral damage.

In other words, if they’d extended Brandon Aiyuk at, say, $30 million per year before doing McCaffrey, it certainly could impact McCaffrey’s request, and complicate those talks. That they’ve taken care of him makes that much less of a problem, and allows San Francisco to now aggressively seek solutions for their contractual bottleneck at receiver.

And, yes, these are first-class problems to have.

After this week, the NFL goes on break until the middle of July. Kids are out of school. People take their families on vacation. Everyone can unplug.

On the other side of it? There’s six months of seven-day weeks, the disappearance of normal weekends, and sacrifices made not just by the team staffers working all of those hours, but also by the families.

And this is when they want to start training camp?

(I know, I know … this has become my crusade. See you next week for more on it.)

It’s Clear Now: Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski Were Right for the Browns (2024)

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