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Majority of Browns locker room wants Odell Beckham Jr. back, safety John Johnson III says

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BEREA, Ohio — Free safety John Johnson III said Thursday he’s hopeful that Odell Beckham Jr. can return to the Browns and believes the majority of the locker room feels that way.

Beckham was excused from practice for the second consecutive day while Browns general manager Andrew Berry, coach Kevin Stefanski and Beckham’s representatives discuss the three-time Pro Bowl receiver’s future.

Left guard Joel Bitonio, the longest-tenured Brown, said the players know about as much as the media on the situation. But Johnson made it clear how he feels.

"I feel like the majority of this locker room would love to have him in this building. Flat out," Johnson said.

Bitonio said if the Browns can reach a resolution with Beckham, which at this point seems unlikely, his teammates will welcome him back.

“We think he’s a great player when he’s on the field, but we don’t know what the situation is. We don’t know what’s really going on," Bitonio said. “But if he wants to come back and be part of the team, I’m sure we’d welcome him with open arms.”

More: Baker Mayfield says he's open to working through issues with OBJ: 'I can put my ego and pride to the side to win'

Odell Beckham Jr. reacts during the Browns' loss to the Steelers in Week 8.
Odell Beckham Jr. reacts during the Browns' loss to the Steelers in Week 8.

In what looked like an attempt to get his son moved before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, Odell Beckham Sr. posted a previously-made video that made Mayfield look culpable for Beckham’s disappointing season. LeBron James, Beckham’s friend, followed with a tweet that included “#FreeOBJ.”

In a new Instagram post Thursday morning, Beckham Sr. credited the YouTube content producer who created the video disparaging Mayfield's performance.

But the Browns kept Beckham, still owed $8.3 million on his contract this season, as the deadline passed and told him to stay home.

Johnson said he did not watch the video, but is aware of the drama playing out on Twitter.

A free agent from the Los Angeles Rams, Johnson saw the relationship between Rams coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff sour, resulting in Goff being traded in March to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Johnson said the Browns situation with Beckham is different.

“Jared didn’t leave the building, Jared was the guy we were depending on,” Johnson said. “In this case, it’s kinda like O’s a moving piece and I guess the leaders in this building feel like we can do it without him. Some guys might have a different opinion.

“One is a quarterback, one is a receiver that’s missed time, that we’ve played without him. I think that’s the biggest difference. Moving forward, I’m going to keep saying it, hopefully, we can get him back somehow, but if not, we’ve got to keep it going.”

After Beckham suffered a torn ACL at Cincinnati on October 25, 2020, the Browns went 7-4 and finished the season 11-5, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Stefanski used the Nov. 8 bye week to revamp the offense and Mayfield flourished after the break.

On Sunday, the Browns (4-4) face a must-win situation as they visit the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3). Stefanski said Wednesday that the Browns are "desperate," although linebacker Malcolm Smith wouldn't go that far Thursday.

Smith said he's not consumed by the Beckham story, but the 10-year veteran and 2013 Super Bowl MVP is among those who wants him to return.

"That’d be great. I mean, it’s one of those things where it gets personal and business is kind of between the front office and people who make those kinds of decisions," Smith said. "Personally, you want the best for him, the best situation for him. That's how I feel whether it's here, if he wants to be somewhere else, whatever he wants and what’s best for him.

“Obviously as a team, we’d love to have him but for me, I really don’t spend too much time thinking about it."

In six games since he returned following Nov. 10 surgery, Beckham has caught 17 passes on 34 targets for 232 yards and no touchdowns. He had one catch for six yards in his only official target in Sunday's 15-10 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said Mayfield is focused this week despite the critical video posted by Beckham Sr. and the ensuing uncertainty affecting the receiver. Mayfield said Wednesday he was willing to repair the relationship with Beckham.

“He is great. We had our third-down meeting today, and it went really well. I have not seen any difference with him as far as his preparation goes,” Van Pelt said of Mayfield. “It is tough on him, I am sure, but at the same time, he is the leader of this offense. As he goes, we go. He just has to again maintain the laser focus of getting him ready for this week and preparing with the guys who are in the building right now for Sunday.”

The drama does not seem to have affected how the Browns feel about Mayfield.

“I mean, he’s our quarterback. Took him that high in the draft, he’s no-brainer our quarterback,” Johnson said of the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. “So we’ve just got to find a way to make those winning plays, whether that’s Odell, whether that’s Jarvis [Landry], whether that’s the run game, doesn’t matter. Same on defense. Whether that’s us turning the ball over, us having to score on defense, we’ve just got to find a way to win these games.”

Bitonio said he has not seen an incident between Mayfield and Beckham that might have been a warning sign leading up to this week. Bitonio said Mayfield is the right kind of leader to handle the situation.

“I think he’s great. He’s a back-against-the-wall guy, anyway,” Bitonio said. “Yes, it’s a story and yes, it’s out there. But for us, when you go out there on the field, you’re playing a game, there’s injuries that happen, there’s suspensions, there’s things that happen in football and you have to go out there and play. You don’t care who’s out on the field or not.

“I think from a team perspective, obviously you can talk about it, you can figure things out. I think Andrew Berry and Coach Stefanski and Odell are figuring that out. But for us, it’s like, ‘We’ve got to go out there and play with the guys we have’ and that’s the mindset that we’re taking.”

Bitonio understands how Beckham could be frustrated by his low reception total, but doesn’t believe that will affect how the Browns view Mayfield.

“Everybody in this business is a super competitive person and they want to play to the best of their ability. When things don't go your way sometimes, feelings get hurt,” Bitonio said. “That's really a tough part of the NFL business but I think Baker carries himself and the way he handles himself on and off the field, from my perspective I don't think that opinion changes.”

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer does not believe the Beckham situation will divide the team.

“We have a bunch of pros in our locker room,” Priefer said. “I think that whatever decision was made was for the best interest of the Cleveland Browns. We are laser focused, and that is really all we are thinking about is the Cincinnati Bengals.”

Johnson doesn't believe the locker room is divided, despite his comments and how it might appear from the outside.

"I don't feel that way. I don't get that vibe. I just feel like as a competitor, as a player, you want to see your guys have success, you want to see your guys do as well as they can and when that doesn't happen, you obviously feel a certain type of way," Johnson said in regards to Beckham’s disappointing production. "But I don't think it's dividing the team any type of way. I just feel like we're a hard-working bunch of guys. ... We've just got to move forward."

Johnson said the Browns can use this as fuel and “an opportunity to come together.” He realizes that if the Browns waive Beckham, he could end up with a team they are vying with for an AFC playoff spot.

“That's definitely a possibility. Like I said, it's the NFL, guys get moved around all the time,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can keep him in here, but if we've got to play him, we're going to give him our best shot. I just wish him more success with everything he does, but hopefully it can be here somehow.”

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns want Odell Beckham Jr. back, John Johnson III says