Nine months ago, when the New York Giants ended the Odell Beckham Jr. saga by trading the star wideout to the Cleveland Browns, the immediate reaction from Beckham wasn’t joy or sadness. It wasn’t even relief.
Instead, it was shock.
Beckham was headed to play with longtime friend Jarvis Landry, for a Browns team that was loading up like never before. His phone was blowing up with calls and messages from future teammates who were celebrating the trade, creating a silver lining to not being dealt to other landing spots that he coveted like the San Francisco 49ers or Los Angeles Rams, according to multiple sources close to Beckham who have spoken with Yahoo Sports about the wideout.
But even the carrot of playing alongside Landry and for a team that coveted him didn’t override Beckham’s initial wave of emotion, a complex set of feelings that he shared with those closest to him, including a mixture of uncertainty about the remixed coaching staff in Cleveland, his unceremonious departure from the Giants, and his own self-induced pressure to get his career back onto the track that defined his first three seasons in the NFL.
“I think he was in disbelief when it first went down,” a source close to Beckham said Sunday night. “I mean, I think he was just pretty much stunned it happened and he’s been dealing with that adjustment and other things ever since. He’s a very emotional person I think there is just a lot going on in his head when it comes to where he’s at with his career.”
According to sources close to the wideout, there are three issues creating an intersection of drama with Beckham now:
He’s physically hurt, which he confirmed Sunday.
He’s frustrated that he’s not playing at the elite standard that he thinks he’s capable of, a fact that he’s alluded to several times this season.
And perhaps most importantly, he’s still unsure about his fit with the Browns, including his relationship with the coaching staff and his role in the offense. Beckham hasn’t admitted this publicly, but it’s a known and growing frustration inside his camp.
As a second source framed it: “He’s lost. … Fame got to him, he made bad choices [and] now he has to redeem himself. And the road to redemption isn’t an easy one when you have an ego.”
Two sources close to Beckham also confirmed a Sunday report from Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer that the wideout has told players and coaches to “come get me” during gameday interactions. Specifically, one source told Yahoo Sports that Beckham made the comments to players during “at least” one game in October. The source declined to specify the opponent, but it’s noteworthy that Cleveland’s October slate featured games against the 49ers and New England Patriots — two teams that aggressively shopped for wideouts at the trade deadline. The 49ers ultimately landed Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos, while the Patriots acquired Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons.
One other notable detail: The sources said Beckham holds 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan in high esteem and has also developed a friendship with San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“He talks to Jimmy on and off the field,” one source said. “They have a friendship that is more than just saying hello before or after [a game]. There’s a lot of mutual respect there as football players and people — which is important [to Beckham].”
What any of this means for Beckham’s future is a whole other matter. He has an opinionated circle of friends and family that surrounds him. Some still speak in hopeful tones about him potentially ending up with the Dallas Cowboys, which would put him in close proximity to his parents. Others continue to pine for a road that ends with the New Orleans Saints, the hometown favorite for many of Beckham’s family and friends who have surrounded him since he was born in Louisiana.
In reality, there’s no indication that the Browns have any intention of parting ways with Beckham — regardless of how often he refers to such questions as “offseason stuff.” When and if he’s healthy again, he has a very attractive contract for an elite-tier wide receiver, putting Cleveland on the hook for a very manageable $15 million per season. And it’s highly unlikely the Browns would entertain unloading a player of his caliber and with that kind of contract for anything less than a blockbuster deal.
That’s worth considering when forecasting whether he might have told a team like the 49ers to come and get him during their October matchup. While Shanahan has been effusive in his praise of Beckham and the franchise made several runs at acquiring him in 2018, there is no escaping that San Francisco has a tight salary-cap situation ahead in light of other players who will be up for contract extensions. More importantly, the 49ers don’t have a massive amount of draft capital to make a run at Beckham, even if the Browns were inclined to listen.
As it stands, San Francisco’s multitude of past trades have left it with its own first-round pick, two fifth-rounders, a sixth and two seventh-round picks. This means that any talks would be complicated by a lack of resources and long-term cap space, unless other players became part of a package. That’s a gauntlet of problems making any inquiry a stretch. Impossible? No. But definitely a long shot.
Then again, it was only a year ago when Beckham signed a long-term deal with the Giants and seemed to be almost impossible to trade based on salary-cap ramifications. New York found a way to make that happen — which means almost nothing is out of the realm of possibility. With Beckham, you simply never know.
There’s also three weeks left in the season and an offseason surgery that appears to be waiting for Beckham. He may not be healthy again until next summer which, as we’ve seen in his nine-month journey from New York to Cleveland, is nothing less than an eternity in the NFL.
He may be lost. His ego may be bruised. His career may not be where he wants it. But there is going to be nothing but months ahead to think about it all, giving the Browns and Beckham some time to find whatever redemption is lacking now.
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