CLEVELAND, Ohio – Vikings assistant GM George Paton pulled out of the race for the Browns GM job on Friday afternoon, a league source told cleveland.com.
The Browns will now focus their efforts on hiring Eagles ‘vice president of football operations Andrew Berry, who was vice president of player Browns’ staff from 2016 to 18-18.
Berry, a favorite of owner Jimmy Haslam and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, interviewed a week ago today for the job, along with Patriots Director of Scouting College Ossenfort Mountains. If he accepts the job, it will be the first time he has headed a department and has the final say on the roster’s decisions.
Paton, one of the best choices of the new coach Kevin Stefanski, opted to stay with the Vikings because he had a series of problems that he had to solve, and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with how it would end. He left here on Thursday with some questions about the structure of power and the division of labor.
He would also have been the sixth GM of the Browns since 2012 and continuity was a major concern. In addition, around half a dozen GM jobs are expected to open next year and are expected to have more opportunities.
Paton was reluctant to accept the initial interview because he thought the job would go to Berry, a League source told Cleveland.com.
But he agreed to explore it for a chance to work with Stefanski, with whom he spent 13 years in Minnesota, Paton’s entire term there. During that time, Paton and Stefanski helped bring the Vikings to the playoffs six times, including the NFC Championship Game twice. It would have been like hiring his coach.
Paton first interviewed the Browns on Saturday and was taken to Cleveland for a second interview on Thursday. He spent about eight hours at Browns headquarters before returning to Minnesota, unsure if it was suitable.
Paton first had to determine if he had a level of comfort by working with DePodesta, who reports directly to Browns’ property, along with the coach and the GM. The property includes Jimmy and Dee Haslam and son-in-law JW Johnson, executive vice president of the team.
The prevailing sentiment in the league circles is that DePodesta has always wanted Berry and that research was skewed that way. Jimmy Haslam made alignment a top priority in this hiring cycle because of the internal discord that characterized his seven-year reign, and Paton would have been more aligned with Stefanski than with DePodesta.
Berry, 32, is a favorite of Haslam and DePodesta of his three years here first under Sashi Brown and then John Dorsey. Berry also got to know Stefanski well during the search for Brown’s head coach in 2019, when Stefanski was transferred from Dorsey to Freddie Kitchens. The two were eager to work together then, and that hasn’t changed, said one source.
DePodesta’s contract expired this month, but will remain with the Browns and his analysis team will have more influence on coaching and staff decisions that will advance. Analytics was at odds with coaching or staff in the past two regimes and Haslam is seeking harmony this time.
Stefanski liked Paton for his long history together and Paton’s excellent track record as a talent assessor in his more than 20 seasons in the NFL. A source told cleveland.com during the interview process that Stefanski “wants him in the worst way.”
Chris Spielman, a former Browns linebacker and GM’s younger brother Rick Spielman, who knows Stefanski and Paton well, believed that mating was exactly what the Browns needed to get to the next level.
“I think it would be appropriate for the Browns to do everything in their power to hire George,” Spielman told cleveland.com. “It makes sense for Kevin Stefanski how [coach-GM] team.”
Spielman compared Stefanski and Paton to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch, who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in their third season.
“See what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have accomplished as a team,” said Spielman. “It’s a league of scripts, and Kevin and George would make an excellent team.”
Over the years Paton has declined numerous GM interviews, including multiple opportunities with the Jets.
He worked side by side with Spielman throughout his career, first as a scout with the Bears in the late 90s and then as deputy director of Pro Personnel in 2000. He then spent six seasons under Spielman with the Dolphins as director of Pro Personnel before moving on to the Vikings in 2007.
This season, the Vikings went 10-6 and earned a spot for the Wildcard playoffs, where they shocked the Saints, 26-20. They lost 27-10 in the division round against the 49ers, who will face the Chiefs in the Super Bowl on February 2.
Paton was a finalist for the work of 49ers GM in 2017 which went to John Lynch and also declined the opportunity to interview the Dolphins. He was one of six candidates to interview for the Colts job that went to Chris Ballard in 2017.