Browns quick hits: Kevin Stefanski on Jarvis Landry: 'There are situations that are hard'

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal

INDIANAPOLIS — Coach Kevin Stefanski did nothing Wednesday to allay the fears of Browns fans who worry the organization is headed for a breakup with five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

“With all of these things, you wait and see how it all plays out,” Stefanski said during the NFL Scouting Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. “I think you guys know how I feel about Jarvis. I know Jarvis knows how I feel about Jarvis. We'll see how it all plays out.

“I think you've seen countless examples of this is a business. I think the players understand that, and sometimes there are situations that are hard. We'll work through all of those. Ultimately, we just have to let this one play out.”

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) looks on during pre-game warm-ups before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Browns General Manager Andrew Berry spoke as if he were bidding farewell to Landry on Jan. 11 in a season wrap-up news conference and again this week at the combine.

“Jarvis, he’s been a productive player for us the past four years, a big part of helping us turn the tide, and everything like that,” Berry said Tuesday. “You know, the next couple weeks are big for us in terms of assessing the entirety of the roster. But Jarvis has been a key veteran for us, a key producer, and we’re really grateful for all that.”

Asked whether he expects Landry to be part of the team next season, Berry said, “I’m not going to any of our specific planning or anything along those lines. But Jarvis has been a key veteran for us for a number of years.”

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In a series of tweets Feb. 22, Landry explained he told the Browns he wanted to return to the franchise, but the ball is in their court, and he's ready to focus on winning a championship elsewhere if another season in Cleveland isn't in the cards.

If Landry doesn't agree to restructure the final season of his contract in 2022, the writing is on the wall for him to be released in a cost-saving move. His representatives and the Browns had a meeting scheduled for this week at the combine, a league source told the Beacon Journal.

Landry, 29, is scheduled to make $15.1 million in salary and bonuses while carrying a salary-cap hit of $16.38 million in 2022, according to OverTheCap.com. Cutting him would cost the Browns just $1.5 million in dead cap.

Landry's close friend and fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr. forced his way out of Cleveland in early November and wound up winning Super Bowl LVI with the Los Angeles Rams last month.

“I'm not going to rehash that,” Stefanski said of Beckham divorcing the Browns, “but obviously happy for Odell, and I wish him well.”

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins, facing, chats with teammates Jarvis Landry, left, and Odell Beckham Jr. during NFL football training camp, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Berea, Ohio.

In addition to Landry looking like he'll leave, the Browns are expected to let receiver and fan favorite Rashard Higgins walk. He's scheduled to hit the open market when free agency begins March 16.

The only receivers of note who will be back are Donovan Peoples-Jones, a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft, and Anthony Schwartz, a third-round choice last year.

“With Anthony, it was really his mental makeup that impressed us right away,” Stefanski said. “We knew he was a world-class sprinter, but until we got him on a Zoom in a combine setting, then we understood what kind of learner he was. We felt confident he could come in and contribute with his versatility in terms of where he can line up. He was hampered by injuries a little bit and then had a concussion that he battled but made some plays for us this season, which you don't often see for a young guy. He can still run, and we're going to hopefully develop him in some of the finer points of route running.

“Donovan is a guy who's steady for us and very, very trustworthy. Quarterbacks love throwing to him because he's going to be where he has to be every single time. Good ball skills. A guy who we're looking forward to taking another step forward.”

Demetric Felton will return, too. The 2021 sixth-round selection is primarily a receiver but listed as a running back.

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Aug 19, 2020; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella (17) during training camp at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK

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It's safe to say the Browns will explore options in free agency, the trade market and the April 28-30 NFL Draft to boost their receiving corps.

One trade target could be Mayfield High School graduate Andy Isabella, a second-round pick in 2019. The Arizona Cardinals recently gave Isabella permission to seek a trade, agent Bradley Bank confirmed Wednesday. USA Today's Josina Anderson first reported the development.

Asked if Isabella has been on the Browns' radar, Stefanski said, “I remember when he was coming out [of the University of Massachusetts]. There's a lot of guys right now that I don't want to speak to anyone specifically.”

In 36 career games, Isabella has caught 31 passes on 49 targets for 426 yards and three touchdowns.

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Browns coach Kevin Stefanski doesn't detect locker-room rift

After Beckham's departure, quarterback Baker Mayfield made reference in an interview on ESPN with former NFL quarterback Alex Smith to repairing relationships in Browns headquarters.

Stefanski was asked if he sensed a problem in the locker room.

“No, I think we had a disappointing season,” Stefanski said. “A lot of times, as you guys know, winning is a deodorant. Then all of the sudden you lose, and you want to naturally think everything is broken. That's not the case.

“I think we were disappointed in how that season ended, and I think now we have to make sure that we're doing our part to put a team together, to come together as a team when we finally do get together and set our sights on 2022.”

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When Browns players participated in media availability the day after their Jan. 9 season finale, safety John Johnson III described a divide between the offense and defense.

Stefanski said this portion of the offseason is a difficult time for players to bond, unless they choose to gather on their own.

“Obviously, I can’t direct them to do any of that, but we'll be very intentional about that,” he said. “Again, fingers crossed, I hope [COVID-19 protocols] are eased up where we can get together and do those type of things. Once April rolls around and the players are in the building, we'll make sure that we find ways to bond as a team because that's important. I think we have the right people.”

In 2020, Kevin Stefanski became the 12th different Cleveland Browns head coach since the team's return in 1999.

Kevin Stefanski teases new resources for Cleveland Browns players

Other points Johnson made after last season were related to player health and wellness.

“I think we can get a yoga instructor in here to work on our flexibility,” Johnson said Jan. 10. “I think our relationship with the [athletic] training staff could be a whole lot better.”

A Browns spokesperson said COVID-19 protocols limited who the team could bring into its training facility, but the club has an athletic trainer on staff who is a certified yoga instructor. The team's specialists did yoga with the athletic trainer throughout last season, the spokesperson said.

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Stefanski said the Browns have added new resources for players that will be unveiled at a later time.

“Guys do play through injuries. I don't say that lightly,” Stefanski said. “I know that's a big part of this, and we have some warriors on our team. We don't put them on the field unless they can protect themselves. Guys are always going to be battling injuries. That's something that we're going to always take a long, hard look at each year.

“I'll be able to share some more with you guys late in terms of what we're doing in our building and adding some resources to our building. Maybe in the next couple of weeks I can explain that to you. Want to make sure that we offer as many resources as we can to our guys.”

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Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett goes for a layup during the Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

Browns star Myles Garrett didn't need Kevin Stefanski's blessing to play in NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

Stefanski forced Myles Garrett into retiring from recreation basketball last offseason because he didn't want the All-Pro defensive end to suffer an unnecessary injury.

But Garrett returned to the court on Feb. 18 for the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at the Wolstein Center in downtown Cleveland. Fortunately for the Browns, Garrett came away from the exhibition unscathed.

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But Stefanski said Garrett didn't need the coach's permission to play hoops this time around.

“No, it was a charity game,” Stefanski said. “He did a nice job. He wanted to make sure he put his athleticism on display. That was a great weekend for Cleveland. I was able to go down Saturday night to the dunk contest and 3-point contest. Cleveland, the city, the fans and everybody did a great job.”

Garrett scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Browns running back Kareem Hunt also played in the game, tallying four points and a rebound.

Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry, left, and head coach Kevin Stefanski watch the team practice during NFL football training camp, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Berea, Ohio.

The Cleveland Browns are open to drafting specialists

Stefanski outlined some of the Browns' biggest needs when he described how he's been studying draft prospects.

“It's a puzzle,” he said. “What you try to do is just be real honest about your evaluation in terms of what you see on tape. Then it's our job to figure out if we can exploit those traits or use those traits in our schemes. Certainly, it's fun.

“It's hard at times when you have a small, speedy receiver, a big possession receiver or you have a flamethrower defensive end and a stout three-technique [defensive tackle] and trying to compare those guys and how they fit in your scheme.”

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What about kicker and punter?

“We spend some time with the specialists with our scouts,” Stefanski said. “We'll get to know all of those guys at every position. Specialist is no different.”

Berry said he would “definitely be open” to drafting a kicker or punter.

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Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com.