CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Rashard Higgins’ desire to remain with the Browns is hardly a secret.
For executive vice president of football operations and general manager Andrew Berry, the feeling is mutual.
“We would like to have Rashard back,” Berry said Wednesday during a Zoom video conference with reporters. “He, obviously, played a key role for us this past year and we have a really positive history with him.”
Higgins found himself buried on the depth chart at the outset of the 2020 season after signing a 1-year ‘prove it’ deal last offseason to return, but injuries helped get him on the field.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Browns, Higgins finished fourth on the team with 37 catches but second in yardage with 599. His four touchdowns tied him with tight end Austin Hooper for the second-most receiving while averaging a career high 16.2 yards per catch.
In five seasons, Higgins has totaled 113 catches for 1,615 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 14.3 yards per reception.
Berry cautioned that bringing Higgins back may be easier said than done.
“Look, free agency can be difficult and obviously he has earned the right to make the decision that is most appropriate for him,” Berry said. “We maintain consistently good communication with him and his reps. We will see where it goes.”
Watt’s next – Berry tried to sign J.J. Watt, who opted for a two-year $31 million deal with the Cardinals instead, and now must look elsewhere.
“We like to explore anything, anything that has a chance to improve the roster, we will weigh it and measure based on other alternatives that are available to us or may be available to us,” Berry said. “One thing I do know is that I think we will have plenty of opportunities to continue to improve the team over the next six to eight months.”
Defensive end Olivier Vernon, who had 9.0 sacks and is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in the fourth quarter of their 24-22 Week 17 win over the Steelers, will be an unrestricted free agent.
“O.V. was very productive for us this year and we are going to have to make sure we maintain a level of effectiveness along that front,” Berry said. “We will have time on all of that and will have plenty of opportunities across the defense to make sure we continue to be effective on that side of the ball.”
The pursuit of Watt leads many to believe that finding a bookend to pair opposite of Myles Garrett is atop the offseason wish list for Berry.
“I do not know that I would necessarily single that position out among others across the defense,” Berry said. “I think it is great to have to bookends along the defensive line. Very few teams do. I think there are a number of different configurations that can make us successful on the defensive line.
“We will look to add talent at that spot, no different than we would all across the defense and up and down the roster, but I would not necessarily get zeroed in there.”
Holes to fill – In addition to Vernon, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, linebacker B.J. Goodson, cornerback Terrance Mitchell and safety Karl Joseph are among the defensive players who will become free agents this month.
“That is the challenge of the job, it really is. Whether it is us or any of the other 31 teams, regardless of what your record was the previous year, there is typically a lot of turnover on NFL rosters,” Berry said. “That is part of what the salary cap is designed to do and it does make it a difficult challenge and a difficult puzzle. With our own guys, we typically take the approach where we do have communication with them throughout the offseason. It starts with their exit meetings after the season then with the reps of all of our players that have expiring deals in January, then you follow up more as appropriate.
“We pride ourselves on having an open line of communication and as much transparency as possible. But it is an enormous challenge. We have a lot of guys that have expiring contracts and played significant roles for us and were a big part of our success. In an ideal role, you keep every single one of your players. We all know on this call that is not possible from year to year, so we are just left with big decisions.”
Chubb extension – While a lot of focus is on a potential extension for Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2021.
Berry did not shy away from admitting extending Chubb is a priority.
“I think you all know the affinity that we have for him but as a player and as a person. He has modeled that over the first three years of his career here,” Berry said. “I think that that is something that we certainly see every day and we all can see externally.
“We have a lot of major decisions that we are going to make, and the first of those come with guys that have expiring contracts within the next two and a half weeks. We do have a number of players who are extension eligible, which he is one and that is something that we will sort through as we go through the offseason. Certainly we like Nick, the player and the person. All those big decisions are things that we have to figure out the overall big picture as we navigate the next several months.”
Njoku’s future TBD – Tight end David Njoku’s fifth-year option becomes guaranteed later this month, but the Browns could cut or trade him without penalty beforehand.
Njoku requested a trade last year and was third on the depth chart in 2020 where he caught 19 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought David played really well for us last year,” Berry said. “He did a nice job with his teammates. He did a nice job with his role within the offense. We think he is a very young, productive player.”
Cryptic Tweet szn – Berry claimed he was unaware of Jarvis Landry’s cryptic tweet last week in which the receiver posted “If One Door Closes... That Means Bigger Ones Are About To Open.”
“You are going to have to ask him [if everything is OK],” Berry said. “He played really well for us last year. He is one of our team leaders. Unfortunately, I do not follow him on Twitter. We like Jarvis a lot.”
Landry led the team in catches and yardage for the third straight year.
Bringing Beckham back – Berry joined head coach Kevin Stefanski in reiterating the team’s commitment to Odell Beckham Jr.
“I think he is a dynamic player who can be incredibly productive in this system so we are looking forward to getting him back healthy.”
Beckham remains “on track” in his rehab from the torn ACL suffered Week 7 at Cincinnati according to Berry.