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Why hiring Andrew Berry as GM is a smart move by the Cleveland Browns

After a search that lasted nearly a month, the Cleveland Browns finally have a new general manager to pair with their new head coach. But unlike Kevin Stefanski, John Dorsey’s replacement is a familiar face. Andrew Berry, now the NFL’s youngest GM at 32 years old, spent three years in Cleveland as vice president of player personnel.

Some fans may look at the team’s record during that stretch and wonder what the Browns are thinking, but Berry is a smart hire for a team that is organizationally aligned for the first time since Jimmy Haslam bought the team in 2012.

The reasons behind Dorsey’s firing are well-documented, so it makes sense that Berry is very different in many areas. Berry was originally hired by Sashi Brown, who headed a regime that valued character, was cautious in using cap space, and prioritized adding as many draft picks as possible.

None of those strategies apply to Dorsey. Cleveland’s goal was to hire people who didn’t have egos, who could work together without caring who got the credit. It seems like they’ve done exactly that with Berry and Stefanski.

Berry played cornerback at Harvard, where he earned a Bachelor’s in economics and a Master’s in computer science. He turned down opportunities on Wall Street to work for the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, where he remained until 2016. He started as a scouting assistant and ended up being promoted to pro scouting coordinator before joining the Browns. There, he worked under both Brown and Dorsey before joining the Philadelphia Eagles as vice president of football operations in 2019. Now, not quite one year later, he’s back in Cleveland as general manager.

Berry is highly respected by all three organizations, and plenty of other teams were interested in prying him away from Cleveland before the Eagles finally did. Since Berry was hired by Philly last February, he was a major part of Cleveland’s coaching search that ultimately resulted in the hiring of Freddie Kitchens.

As many will know, Kitchens was Dorsey’s choice. The strategy department recommended Minnesota Viking’s interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who called plays for three regular season games. Berry was a huge proponent of Stefanski, and the two were looking forward to working with each other until Haslam sided with his GM. What should have happened a year ago has happened now, with Dorsey out of the picture.

The Browns entered this year’s search knowing Stefanski would be high on their board, but left themselves open to other candidates. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was extremely impressive in his interview, and the same strategy was used for the GM search. Berry was their target, but they also interviewed Vikings assistant GM George Paton, along with New England Patriots director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort. Paton was interviewed twice, and just like Saleh, impressed the Browns brass, although he eventually decided to stay in Minnesota, like he’s done many times in the past. Berry was reportedly offered the job last week, and the two sides have since agreed on a five-year contract.

Stefanski, Berry, and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta all share the same vision for the Browns. They are all Ivy League graduates who value analytics in their decision-making. Berry and Stefanski, the two people who will actually be dealing with football, played the sport and have been in the NFL for years. There will be no infighting. No tug-of-war between the coach and the GM, or the GM and other front office departments and executives.

That’s the most encouraging thing about this regime change, but Haslam has to do his part as well. He can’t be 99% committed. He has to go all the way, and give his hires time to do their job. One or two years isn’t enough time. This team has the makings of an excellent squad, but it’s not there yet.

Berry has never been in a position where he is the one picking players. He is a rookie in that regard. So he cannot be blamed for the poor draft picks made by the Browns since 2016, both under Brown and Dorsey. But given the respect he’s earned around the league, plus the experience he gained with both the Browns and Eagles, he should do a good job. He’ll certainly make some mistakes, but he’ll also learn from them. He’s not a prideful person, a stark contrast from the previous GM.

The Browns have finally decided to listen to DePodesta, and given his track record with the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Mets, that’s a smart decision. DePodesta is not a football guy (although he did play in college), Berry is. DePodesta and Berry have had a great relationship dating back to when both were brought to Cleveland. And now, they are tasked with taking a talented roster to the next level, and turning the Browns not just into a contender, but a sustainable one.

Berry has an immense amount of pressure on his shoulders, given the financial situation the Browns will be in within three years, and the fact that quarterback Baker Mayfield is entering his third season and will already be on his fourth offensive coordinator. The constant dysfunction and turnover has to stop. The Browns desperately need continuity, and hopefully Berry is the man to provide that.

There’s no guarantee that things work out this time. Nothing has worked in Cleveland since the team came back in 1999. But this time, the Browns had a clear hiring process, they stuck to that process, and it ended up working out for them. With reports that Stefanski is targeting 49ers assistants Joe Woods, Mike McDaniel, and Mike LaFleur for his coordinator positions, next week could wrap things up as far as staffing.

Now, Berry must go to work on putting this team in a better position, both on and off the field. He has some serious work to do, but he wouldn’t have come back to this organization if he didn’t like the position he would be in. Only time will tell if the Browns finally got it right, but hiring Andrew Berry is a smart move, and not just because of his Ivy League status.