A little over two months ago, after the Cleveland Browns had run through yet another bleak winter gauntlet of firings and hirings, the newly cemented front office and coaching staff prepared itself. The NFL’s scouting combine was around the corner, and with it, the inevitability of fraudulent Odell Beckham Jr. storylines.
By mid-February, scuttled Beckham Jr. rumors already seemed like they were back on the tracks and picking up steam. And it was happening before the first unified offseason step of the new Browns trinity had even been taken by general manager Andrew Berry, head coach Kevin Stefanski and chief strategist Paul DePodesta.
The new regime surely didn’t want Beckham Jr. in the locker room.
He was a John Dorsey relic that had to be dumped.
Beckham Jr. didn’t really want to be in Cleveland, anyway.
On radio and television — and in scattered corners of print and online media — one piece of speculation hooked onto the next. Almost to the point of fascination inside the Browns franchise because as far as the reshaped braintrust was concerned, none of it was close to representing what was actually going on.
“I think we’re really in a good place,” a Browns source remarked in late February. “We’ve had some really good conversations. He knows how we feel about him. He’s going to be an important part of what we’re doing. And I think some of the problems in the past were resolved with the changes that were made [on the coaching and front office staff].”
Odell Beckham Jr. is viewed as critical piece for Browns
This is the conversation that resonates every time I hear that Odell Beckham Jr. is supposedly on his way out of Cleveland. It echoes for one reason: Whether it’s publicly or privately, the tune of the new Browns order hasn’t changed about Beckham. He’s valued by the organization and is considered a massively important (and healthy) part of the equation moving forward.
And he’s not getting dealt this offseason. Not this week. Not during the NFL draft. And not before stepping onto the field in 2020 and showcasing what he can do for an offensive head coach who is universally more disciplined and prepared than his predecessor. That’s what Stefanski represents. Someone who can handle the pressure of his position and navigate relationships with players who demand opportunities to be a bigger part of the solution.
That’s Beckham — a significant part of the solution that you don’t trade.
A guy who helps get a humbled-but-highly-motivated Baker Mayfield back into his 2018 groove. A guy who energizes a cast of offensive additions in 2020 that should get even stronger in the upcoming draft. A guy capable of getting healthy and then showing why you don’t throw away superbly talented players — especially when they had a legitimate gripe about the underlying failures of the previous coaching staff.
And not only is he wanted, but he’s necessary. He is one of the key cogs that helps Cleveland realize all the mismatch issues that Stefanski’s offense is capable of presenting. A scheme that will thrive on packages featuring two tight ends or two running backs, buoyed by a pair of playmaking wideouts on the outside. Not since Beckham was turning the league upside down early in his career with the New York Giants will he be in a scheme that suits him so well.
Dealing Beckham ‘does not make a whole lot of sense’
This is why the Browns are getting frustrated with the constant flow of Beckham trade rumors. Like the one that speculated the Dallas Cowboys would come after Beckham after hiring his longtime NFL and college receivers coach, Adam Henry (never mind the Amari Cooper extension Dallas was working on). Or that the New England Patriots would engineer a move to add Beckham for Tom Brady (uh, whoops). Or that Beckham would “welcome” a trade to the New York Jets or San Francisco 49ers, but also might be a trade target for the Green Bay Packers or Philadelphia Eagles. And just for good measure, former NFL linebacker Bart Scott insisted at one point that Beckham was absolutely on the trade block — then backed it up with zero evidence.
That was just February, by the way. We weren’t even quarantined into a state of boredom yet, which means this nonsense was almost certainly going to get worse before it got better. It’s how we got to a Minnesota Vikings trade report this week that was described right down to the details of what compensation was being discussed.
Except that it didn’t happen. The Vikings hadn’t made a call. They hadn’t taken a call. They didn’t even know it was a thing until reporters started reaching out to sources in the organization. That’s pretty much what the Browns confirmed Thursday.
“In short, I will just say it was completely false,” DePodesta said about the phantom Vikings trade offer. “It is frustrating a little bit, obviously. I think it is pretty clear what we are trying to build at this point. We have done an awful lot in free agency. We are excited about what we have a chance to do in the draft, and we are really building around a core of players that we think have a chance to be a championship-caliber core. The idea that we would take away from that core at this moment just does not make a whole lot of sense and is really not something that we are exploring at all. It is completely false.”
That’s about as blunt as the Browns can be, short of delivering the dangerous, zero-wiggle declaration that media members all clamor for (including me, at times). Something along the lines of “We aren’t trading this guy for anything, ever.” It’s a ridiculous expectation that is often use to prove a hollow “BUT THEY DIDN’T SAY NEVER” response.
Let’s be real here. Brady left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month. Todd Gurley is an Atlanta Falcon. Philip Rivers is an Indianapolis Colt. And neither Cam Newton or Jameis Winston can get a starting job anywhere in the NFL. The idea of “never” in this league has pretty much been incinerated.
But the Browns are as committed to Beckham as they can be, both publicly and privately. They aren’t making calls. They aren’t soliciting them, either. That’s how it was before the combine. That’s how it is now. And that’s how it will be when the draft kicks off next week.
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