Browns stock report: Deshaun Watson rises while Denzel Ward falls

Browns, Jedrick Wills. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Browns, Jedrick Wills. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /
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Browns, Andrew Berry
Browns, Andrew Berry. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Browns Stock down1: general manager Andrew Berry

If Andrew Berry were a commodity traded on the stock market, he would be a mutual fund promoted by Bernie Madoff, the famous pyramid scheme swindler. Huge investments in Deshaun Watson (five years, $230 million), Denzel Ward (five years, $100.5 million), Jack Conklin (four years, $60 million), and David Njoku (four years $54.8 million) this season will impact the salary structure for years to come and look very questionable right now.

All of these players are very good players, but not necessarily at the top of their profession. For example, Ward’s salary is somewhere around the top three among cornerbacks in the NFL, and he is currently the 87th highest-graded corner in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Although PFF is not necessarily the end-all of payer evaluation it does reflect the general view that Ward is having a poor season.

Watson played well in Week 18, but no one thinks he’s better than Joe Burrow or Patrick Mahomes. Hence we doubt whether he is worth paying the most in the NFL plus six draft picks, including three first-round draft picks.

Berry, with the blessing of chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, has embarked on a policy of deliberately outspending the competition for as long as they can sustain it, realizing that someday there will come a day of reckoning and rebuilding will be necessary.

That is, it will be necessary to pare down the roster to accumulate salary cap and draft picks, similar to the way that Sashi Brown did in 2016-2017. Hopefully, the next cutdown will be more of a surgical approach rather than the chainsaw wielded by Brown.

So are the Browns getting superstars for their enhanced spending? That’s very doubtful. Maybe they’re better than average at least.

Meanwhile, they simply failed to address several basic positions, such as defensive tackle and free safety on defense. On offense, they fired fullback Andy Janovich on offense. Plus it behooves a two-tight-end offense to have more than two quality tight ends on offense. Instead, they canned Austin Hooper, who was a capable if a significantly overpaid player, and didn’t replace him with a free agent or a draft pick.

Berry seems determined to invest in speedy wide receivers and to decrease Kevin Stefanski’s reliance on tight ends and blocking backs, hoping to encourage (force?) the coach to use multiple wide receiver sets in their place. Berry and Stefanski are not on the same page it would seem.

Watson has probably played his best football when the team has had two strong tight ends and two backs as employed by Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien from 2017 through 2020. Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt probably want to do something similar, but Berry doesn’t want to supply players for that style of offense.

What’s to be made of Berry not supplying enough defensive tackles or free safety help? Is he trying to force some alternate alignment, or what?

Whatever the explanation, the Browns have some of the lowest-performing defensive tackles in the NFL according to their PFF grades, and John Johnson III performed much better as a box safety or strong safety for the Los Angeles Rams than as a free safety for the Browns.

Cleveland didn’t have the personnel to be a top-five defense in 2022, so no one should be shocked that the results are not top-five, either.

Many fans wish to blame the defensive coordinator. However, the problems might have been better addressed by not trading away draft picks and having better salary cap management.