PALM BEACH, Fla. — Andrew Berry has made it known in the past he takes pride in communicating well with players and their agents while conducting business as the general manager of the Browns.
Berry conceded Tuesday he has a regret along those lines in connection with Baker Mayfield and the franchise's blockbuster trade for fellow quarterback Deshaun Watson on March 18.
Although Berry met with Mayfield's agent early this month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and explained he would conduct due diligence on other quarterbacks, the GM did not notify Mayfield's camp the Browns would meet with Watson on March 15 in Houston with the sweepstakes for the three-time Pro Bowl selection underway.
As Berry, coach Kevin Stefanski and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam flew back from their meeting with Watson, Mayfield posted what read like a farewell letter to Cleveland on social media. Two days later, Mayfield formally requested a trade, and the next day the Browns struck a deal with the Houston Texans for Watson.
“We were pretty open with Baker and his camp in terms of how we viewed the position,” Berry said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings at The Breakers Palm Beach resort. “I will keep those conversations private for obvious reasons. Quite honestly, if there's probably one thing that I would regret or kind of go back [and do] differently, when he had been notified that we were one of the teams that Deshaun wanted to meet with, late that Monday night, we set up the visit. I had set up a call for Baker's representation the following morning. The news got out before I was able to make that call.
“You always hate those type of situations because it kind of gives off an appearance of – that's never how you want someone to find out about that situation. That's the one thing I wish I had done a little bit differently. But on the whole, we had been pretty candid in terms of where we stood at the quarterback position really since very early in the offseason.”
Browns won't rush a Baker Mayfield trade
Now the Browns have Watson and are looking to trade Mayfield, but Berry made it clear he won't rush a deal.
Mayfield is due $18.858 million guaranteed next season as a result of Berry exercising the fifth-year option on the player's rookie contract in April 2021. So far, the Browns haven't found a trade partner willing to take on Mayfield's salary, and Berry isn't going to panic by agreeing right away to pay part of it.
"I wouldn't say we have a specific timetable for the quarterback room,” Berry said. “Baker is a professional. He's under contract. We have the [cap] flexibility whether he's on the roster or not. So we don't really feel pressed to rush into anything that's sub-optimal.
“The reality of it is, quarterbacks are valuable. Baker's a good player, and you can't have enough good players on your roster. We've already planned to make it work, and we'll just see how the next few weeks go or few months go.”
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Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage appointments by two dozen women, 22 of whom have filed a civil lawsuit against him. Two grand juries in Texas decided March 11 and Thursday that he wouldn't be criminally charged, but he will still likely be suspended by the NFL. Watson continued Friday during his introductory news conference with the Browns to deny all wrongdoing.
The Browns signed Jacoby Brissett last week to serve as Watson's backup.
"Jacoby was a guy that we really identified early in the process regardless of how different the quarterback room would look," Berry said. "We think Jacoby has show in multiple environments to be an effective player when called into action. He's still in his prime and early in his career, and we know that he's an A-plus person and A-plus leader from his time in New England, his time in Indianapolis and his time in Miami. For an individual who's been in a number of different situations and different offenses and has talent, he was a guy that was on our short list of options."
To be clear, it's not realistic to view Mayfield as a placeholder for Watson in the event of a suspension.
"I think everybody understands the situation," Stefanski said Monday of Mayfield, "and we’re hoping that there’s closure to it at some point."
Speaking about Watson, Brissett and Mayfield, Berry said, “We have three good players at the most important position in sports. That's not to say that there aren't things that we're going to work through over the course of the next several months, but I don't view it as a bad situation at all. We feel like we have three good ones, and a lot of teams are still looking for one guy, so you don't mind being deep there, and we'll take it as it goes.”
Browns salary cap gives them some flexibility
Translation: The Browns are holding out hope to trade Mayfield under what they would consider ideal circumstances.
"We are situated in a manner [from a salary-cap standpoint] where we can do what we need to do moving forward regardless of how the quarterback room shakes out," Berry said.
Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta said the Browns thought they had landed “a very, very good” quarterback when former GM John Dorsey drafted Mayfield first overall in 2018. And even though Mayfield struggled mightily in an injury-riddled 2021 season, DePodesta still believes the former Heisman Trophy winner would be valuable to a team without a clear-cut upgrade like Watson.
“We still believe really strongly in Baker as starting quarterback in this league,” DePodesta said. “I think he's gonna be really good for a really long time, but it is unusual, you know, to have an opportunity to acquire player like [Watson]. I think quarterback has sort of always been a priority, but I don't think if we sat down five six years ago, I don't think we envision that would be in this scenario.”
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns GM wishes he told Baker Mayfield about Deshaun Watson