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Browns GM Andrew Berry: Deshaun Watson 'actually ahead of schedule' in return from shoulder injury

With minicamp in the rearview mirror, Browns general manager Andrew Berry had an opportunity to answer some pertinent questions regarding a trio of key players Monday.

First up, quarterback. Deshaun Watson is preparing to return from a shoulder injury that ended his season prematurely in 2023, and 2024 is clearly a make-or-break campaign for him.

As things stand now, he's very much in line to return at full strength for the start of the season. In fact, the Browns are so eager to see him let it rip, they've circled the start of training camp on their calendars.

"First and foremost, Deshaun has really worked his tail off during the rehabilitation process over the last several months," Berry said during an appearance on The Insiders on Monday. "He's really actually ahead of schedule. He's really chomping at the bit to take the governor off so to speak, but really he's had a really nice spring. He's thrown the ball well. Did a really nice job during our 7-on-7 and team periods during this veteran minicamp. So, we're excited as he gets into training camp and gets the pads on.

"He's making excellent progress. Honestly if you didn't know he got hurt last year, you really wouldn't be able to tell the difference. We're very excited once camp starts."

June is optimism season, but this response isn't just the product of hope. Watson seemed to look healthy when throwing passes during the offseason program, and if he is ahead of schedule, he should be fully prepared to hit the ground running in late July.

The same can't be said for running back Nick Chubb, who suffered a significant knee injury in Week 2 last season and had his contract adjusted because of it. Even as he works tirelessly on his rehab, there's no guarantee Chubb will ever be the same player he was, but that didn't mean he was suddenly irrelevant to the Browns.

"When we look at any member of our organization, it's important for us not to lose sight of the fact that we're dealing with people," Berry said of contract talks with Chubb, which resulted in a more incentive-dependent deal for the star runner. "What happened to Nick last year was very unfortunate. He had no desire to be anywhere beside Cleveland. We had no desire for that to be the last snap he would take in a Cleveland Browns jersey. Quite honestly, he's the heartbeat and pulse of our team. He is a selfless individual. He works hard. He's an outstanding ball-carrier, an outstanding running back.

"I said this at my end-of-season press conference, coming into the year I had a respect level for Nick Chubb, it was a 10 out of 10. Exiting the season it was probably a 20 out of 10 because this was a person who came in every day, 5:30, doing his rehab, working as if he was preparing for Sunday.

"I think that says something about him individually and as a professional. One of the moments that we're all most looking forward to is the first time he runs out of that home tunnel for his debut of the 2024 season. So we're really excited to have him back and can't wait to get going with him."

With Chubb's deal adjusted in order to prevent a parting of ways and Watson on track to return, the Browns still have one more matter to address: wide receiver Amari Cooper's contract. He's entering the final year of a five-year, $100 million deal originally signed with the Cowboys, and has outperformed that contract according to the current pay scale at the position.

Cooper also turned 30 Monday. He'll never have more leverage to capitalize financially than now, leading him to avoid mandatory minicamp as the two sides talk finances.

Berry was asked about Cooper on Monday and predictably declined to comment on contract talks, but did speak glowingly of Cooper, who has been nothing but a consummate professional since arriving in Cleveland in 2022.

"What I will say about Amari is since he's been a member of the Cleveland Browns, he's obviously been a high-level, Pro Bowl-caliber receiver," Berry said. "But he's also a great teammate and he's a great professional. We're happy to have him as a member of the organization.

"Sometimes all teams will have periods where they go through this type of situation, but it does not change our affinity for Amari. We'll navigate the business considerations, the business aspects, as it goes, but he is a big part of our team, and just as important, he's a big part of our culture."

Cooper headlines a receiving corps that added Jerry Jeudy via offseason trade, and after two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, it would be in Cleveland's best interest to get a deal done, even if it only means a contract adjustment. With Watson on track to return at full strength, retaining his top target will be essential to the QB's attempt to make good on his five-year, $230 million deal signed in 2021.

There's no time to waste in Cleveland, where everyone seems to be acting accordingly. After completing an unlikely run to the playoffs last season, we'll see if the Browns can deliver again in 2024.

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