The Giants’ best player will be wearing a different uniform next season, confirming the uncomfortable reality that one of the NFL’s most historically successful franchises is undergoing a total overhaul.
The news that Odell Beckham Jr., will be traded to Cleveland in exchange for first- and third-round picks and safety Jabrill Peppers—first reported by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo—shocked the team’s fan base, though the possibility that Beckham could be traded had been discussed dating back to last offseason.
Just six months ago the Giants signed their star receiver, drafted No. 12 overall in 2014, to a five-year, $95 million extension. “We didn’t sign Odell to trade him, OK?” GM Dave Gettleman said at a press conference during the NFL combine a mere two weeks ago.
And then they did. But Gettleman wasn’t necessarily being untruthful. Last summer the Giants made the decision not to let Beckham play out the final year of his rookie deal without an extension, which in their view eliminated one potential distraction for first-year head coach Pat Shurmur. The door, though, was never shut on the possibility of moving Beckham—particularly as the receiver became what the team considered to be a distraction anyway, including his ESPN sit-down alongside Lil Wayne, in which Beckham didn’t seem much too happy with his current city or quarterback. Owner John Mara, in turn, wasn’t much too happy with Beckham’s remarks.
The move to extend Beckham last summer essentially equates to paying him more than $21 million for a single season, plus eating a $16 million dead cap charge. But consider the other side of that: The cap hit is less painful in a rebuilding year, and it stands to reason that the return compensation the Giants received now is better than they would have gotten last year. Peppers was a first-round pick just two years ago and will step into the void left by Landon Collins, and the Giants have the No. 6 and 17 picks in this year’s draft to use to potentially get their preferred QB and/or replenish their defense.
Whatever word the Giants choose to use or not use, this is a rebuild. Just three opening-day starters from 2016 remain on the team’s roster: Eli Manning, Sterling Shepard and Janoris Jenkins. That 2016 team, bolstered by a defensive free-agent spending spree, went 11-5 but lost in the first round of the playoffs; over the last two seasons New York has won a total of just eight games, and changed the head coach and GM.
Those results support a roster overhaul, and the last decade is proof that you don’t need an elite No. 1 receiver to win a Super Bowl. The last time the Giants won, in the 2011 season—also the last time they won a playoff game—their top receivers were Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham.
The mixed message is that the Giants are undertaking this rebuild with a 38-year-old starting quarterback. Still lingering is the question of why they didn’t draft Manning’s successor last year in a quarterback-rich class, choosing instead to take running back Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall and pass on every QB other than Baker Mayfield. Barkley is every bit the dynamic talent they believed him to be, and the 22-year-old rookie could often be observed walking up and down the bench in between series like a veteran, encouraging teammates and keeping them focused—including Beckham. But he plays a position that in today’s NFL is generally not the starting point for a rebuild.
Beckham will leave an irreplaceable void on a Giants roster desperately seeking talent. While he often clashed with management, he was loved in the locker room. The team was invested in making it work—one of Shurmur’s early moves after getting hired was to visit Beckham out in Los Angeles. The coach knew he needed to have his best player pulling in the same direction with him. There wasn’t one turning point for the team to move on from Beckham, but rather a cumulative effect of bumps in the road that spanned three head coaches and several seasons: tussling with Josh Norman in 2015; his battles with a kicking net and the Miami boat trip before the first playoff game in 2016; an inappropriate TD celebration that mimicked a dog urinating in 2017; and last offseason an Instagram video of him pictured in bed with a woman and what appeared to be drugs. Last fall his frustrations with another disappointing season became apparent as the year wore on, both publicly and privately. And the power play Antonio Brown executed just days ago is a reminder that if players of a certain caliber—players like Beckham—don’t like their team, they can force their own way out.
It’s hard to imagine that Beckham is gone so soon from the team where The Catch shot his star up beyond what anyone was prepared for and where he became a cultural phenomenon. But, go figure, it’s not Cleveland starting over this time—it’s the Giants.
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