Pay attention NFL, Andrew Berry and the Cleveland Browns are holding class on how to build a championship-level core.
Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry is giving other NFL front offices a masterclass on securing a team’s core. The multifaceted lesson includes talent identification, roster building, and timely negotiations.
Hopefully not too many general managers are paying close attention.
If you were to start a checklist of constructing a championship-worthy roster, which positions would you consider to be the most vital? Naturally, you would start with obtaining an upper-echelon quarterback. Check. You would probably want to secure a top-five edge rusher next. Check.
After edge, you would want to build an offensive line to protect your investment at quarterback. Check. True, most teams start at the left tackle and work their way inside, but that is where the Browns team-building philosophy took a left at Albuquerque.
Sure, they absolutely prioritize left tackle as a premium position as Berry proved when he used the 10th overall pick to land Jedrick Wills. But the jury is still out on whether they have that position solved for the long haul.
The Browns do have two All-Pro caliber guards in Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller anchoring the unit. Both guards are locked up through 2026. Then if you add the fact that Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper are under contract through 2025 and you have the blueprint for how the Browns expect to win. There will be additions through the draft and free agency over time, but the backbone of the offense is fully intact for the foreseeable future.
Then Berry and the Browns extended their number one cornerback, Denzel Ward, to a five-year extension that puts the lockdown cover corner in Cleveland through 2028. What is the throughline with all the Browns extension recipients? They are all just inside of — or just entering — the prime of their careers. This is done through drafting young, early retention identification, and effective long-term negotiating.
In a matter of two offseasons, Berry has managed to retain the services of all the Browns top-tier talented players at key positions. Their contracts time up to effectively retain the vast majority through the prime of their playing careers. By doing so, Berry has created a clear championship window that extends from 2022 all the way to 2028. Masterclass.
Contracts the Cleveland Browns have dished out with Andrew Berry
Since Berry has taken on the mantel of Browns GM he has extended: Myles Garrett (five years $100 million guaranteed), Joel Bitonio (three years $22.1 million guaranteed), Wyatt Teller (four years $29 million guaranteed), Nick Chubb (three years, $20 million guaranteed), and Denzel Ward (5 years $71 million guaranteed).
Berry also traded for and extended Deshaun Watson (5 years $230 million guaranteed), and Amari Cooper (5 years $60 million guaranteed). One thing to keep in mind is that if these players perform at the level expected of them, then these contracts will be bargains just a season or two from now. Those seven tactical moves alone provide the Browns the framework to be a legitimate contender year in and year out.
Now, to be clear, the Browns are not out of the weeds and there will always be tough decisions looming on the horizon. There are still holes that need to be filled and depth that needs to be addressed. Anytime that you commit yourself to these kinds of sizeable long-term deals, it will force frugal decisions in order to fill in and build around the core of your team to maintain continuing success.
David Njoku’s contract is in the crosshairs of the franchise now, and the only question is when or if Berry will pull the trigger to make the tight end part of the long-term plan. Over time, the Browns are going to have to let some good players walk out of the door due to the financial musical chairs. These are tough decisions to make, but it is a great position to be in that most front offices would be envious of.
With an ever-increasing salary cap and a graduate-level of understanding cap gymnastics, it is more possible than ever to keep a core of elite talented players together for a prolonged duration. There will no doubt be renegotiations, and then renegotiations of the renegotiations, plus conversions of salary into signing bonuses, but as long as Berry stays ahead of the curve the Browns will be serious contenders for at least the next five seasons.
We are entering a new era of the way business is handled in the NFL and Berry and the Browns are standing at the forefront. What a time to be alive.