Odell Beckham Jr. made it clear early that he was a bit of a different guy. I remember stopping at his locker during his rookie year when the wide receiver stuck out his right hand, with fingers as long as garden hoses, and introduced himself by name before I could do the same. It was a really minor thing, but I’m pretty sure it was the first time in my three decades of sportswriting that a star athlete had done that.
Beckham would use that right hand and those endless fingers he said were passed down from his mother, a former track star, to make perhaps the NFL’s most stunning regular-season touchdown catch ever in a November loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That was a window into Beckham’s career with the New York Giants: moments of breathtaking brilliance set against a mind-numbing series of defeats.
On Tuesday night, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman traded Beckham to the Cleveland Browns for the 17th overall pick in next month’s draft, a third-round pick and safety Jabrill Peppers, who played his high school ball about a dozen miles from MetLife Stadium. Gettleman made this move not even seven months after signing Beckham to a record five-year, $95 million contract.
“We got him until he’s 108,” the GM joked that late-summer day.
As it played out, Gettleman got rid of the receiver before he even turned 27.
The old-school Giants have a card-carrying old-school GM in Gettleman, and there is no doubt that the receiver’s high-maintenance ways contributed to his exit. Beckham engaged cornerback Josh Norman in the octagon, lost a fistfight with a kicking net, proposed marriage to said kicking net, took a boating vacation before his dreadful playoff performance against Green Bay — and then punched a hole in a Lambeau Field wall — and sat with Lil Wayne and ESPN’s Josina Anderson and questioned everything from Eli Manning‘s arm to the team’s heart.
Tom Coughlin, two-time Super Bowl-champion coach with the Giants, once said that Beckham brought qualities to the Giants “the likes of which I’ve never seen.” And yet three head coaches (Coughlin, Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur), two general managers (Jerry Reese and Gettleman) and one team president and co-owner (John Mara) could never quite figure out how to manage Beckham and how to channel his boundless energy in a less disruptive direction.
Mara, Gettleman and Shurmur ultimately threw up their hands and said enough’s enough. They sent Beckham to go play with his dear friend and LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry, and dynamic young quarterback Baker Mayfield, who stands as the polar opposite of the Giants’ Manning.
The fast-breaking Browns are all set to fill the LeBron void in Cleveland.
But the Giants?
“Now they are in a full-blown rebuild, and 38-year-old Eli is still there,” one league executive said Tuesday night. “The running back, [Saquon] Barkley, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he stays healthy, but the problem is he’s not a quarterback.”
In drafting Barkley with the second overall pick, and in signing Beckham to his record deal in August, the Giants declared their intent to surround the declining Manning with enough explosive playmakers to lift him back to contending form. They finished 5-11 with that plan.
The Giants’ new plan involves bringing back Manning and then trading the most physically talented player they’ve drafted since Lawrence Taylor, absorbing a $16 million dead-cap hit on the receiver’s deal in the process. In committing franchise-player money over five years to a genuine star, then bailing on him less than seven months later, the Giants organization showed why it has missed the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons.
Yes, Beckham was a handful who demanded constant care. He’s not an easy employee, and he couldn’t always stay on the field.
But he was a spectacular player when he was on the field, as the fastest player to 200 catches and 3,000 yards in league history (30 games). Beckham was an incredible steal as the 12th pick of the 2014 draft, and the Giants had to try everything to keep him for the long term.
Their surrender was an organizational failure, from top to bottom.
“We didn’t sign him to trade him,” Gettleman had said. Of course, if the Giants were going to move Beckham to Cleveland, they should have tried like hell before last year’s draft, before they paid him the big bucks. They could’ve tried offering Beckham to the Browns in a package for the fourth pick, and perhaps ended up with quarterback Sam Darnold (at No. 2) and Barkley (at No. 4, after the Jets took a quarterback at No. 3). Then the Giants would’ve been in business.
Instead, people around the league are trying to figure out what, exactly, they’re trying to accomplish. Some executives believe that the Giants might pass on Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins at No. 6, turn 2019 into a start-to-finish Eli farewell tour that will placate the fans, to some extent, during a 3-13 season, and then draft Manning’s replacement in 2020.
Whatever they do, and whatever the actual plan is, the Giants failed themselves and their fan base by shipping out their otherworldly receiver. They are in the business of gathering and developing talent, and they didn’t develop Beckham. They gave up on him instead. And they reminded the rest of the sport why they have lost 24 of their past 32 games.