An Odell Beckham Jr. news cycle can feel like a South Park town hall.
Beckham is set to be a free agent after this season, and Giants co-owner John Mara was asked at the NFL owners meetings on Sunday about the chances of New York’s biggest star playing on another team next year.
“I can’t answer that one way or the other,” Mara told reporters. “We’re certainly not shopping him. Again, when you’re coming off a season when you’re 3-13 and played as poorly as we played, I wouldn’t say that anyone is untouchable.”
Twenty-four hours after Mara spoke, the NFL rumor mill devolved into a blubbering mess. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Beckham would hold out this season if he didn’t receive a new contract (from any team), reports surfaced that the Giants’ front office was listening to phone calls about trades, and Beckham’s friend Jarvis Landry was tweeting at him to join the Browns.
Suddenly every team wants to trade for Beckham, even though Mara explicitly said the Giants aren’t shopping him (though answering phone calls is part of his job). You don’t need to be Matt Patricia to see that trading him doesn’t make much sense for New York. If the Giants are betting on Eli Manning for their short-term future, parting with Beckham is nonsensical. I am a Giants fan who has Beckham’s Dirty Dancing Super Bowl commercial as my Twitter cover photo, so I may be biased, but as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out, Manning has been terrible when Beckham isn’t on the field.
If you want to know why the Giants won’t trade Odell Beckham, these are Eli Manning’s stats with and without Odell on the field over the last three seasons: pic.twitter.com/yCynKTU3UI— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 26, 2018
And even if New York takes a long-term approach and drafts a quarterback at no. 2 overall this year, the Giants still need Beckham, who is only 25.
Already Beckham owns one of the best starts by a receiver in NFL history. Through 47 career games, he has accrued 4,424 yards, 313 receptions (14.1 yards per catch), and 38 touchdowns. Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, here are the players who had 35 or more receiving touchdowns through their first 47 games.
- Randy Moss, 42
- Jerry Rice, 41
- Rob Gronkowski, 40
- Odell Beckham Jr., 38
- John Jefferson, 37
And here is the list of players who cracked 4,000 receiving yards through 47 games.
- Odell Beckham Jr., 4,424
- Julio Jones, 4,165
- Randy Moss, 4,121
Even in an increasingly pass-happy league, Beckham is one of a handful of truly elite, game-breaking football players, and he’s barely in his prime. Through four years in the NFL, his biggest opponent has been himself. That pattern emerged again earlier this month when a potentially compromising video of him surfaced. Two weeks later, in an unrelated situation, he was sued for $15 million. His health is also a question after he broke his ankle in 2017, though Beckham looked perfectly fine dancing at Giants receiver Sterling Shepard’s wedding three weeks ago.
The (loud!) noises about trading Beckham distract from the conversation about extending him. Beckham is playing this season on a fifth-year team option worth $8.5 million, and he’s due to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Both sides agree he needs a new deal. In June of last year, Mara let some negotiating leverage slip when he said, “Obviously we want [Beckham] to be a Giant for the rest of his career.” The next month, Beckham said that he believed he’ll be the highest-paid player in football. On Monday, Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said Beckham and the team were in the early stages of negotiations. Beckham’s reported interest in holding out for a new contract puts pressure on the Giants to make him an offer sooner rather than later.
But talking about a holdout and actually sacrificing game checks is vastly different. Rather than meet Beckham’s numbers, the team could call his bluff, let him play this season, and then use the franchise tag on him in 2019 (and even 2020) before reaching a long-term deal. When asked about the timeline for Beckham’s extension, Mara said, “That’ll get done when it’s supposed to get done.”
Sooner may be better for everyone involved. The Giants refusing to give Beckham an extension this summer is akin to betting against him this year. If Beckham gets hurt again or statistically falls back to earth, the Giants may save some money, but to keep him they’d still likely have to make him the highest-paid receiver in football by a good margin, a title currently held by Antonio Brown at $17 million per year or Mike Evans at $55 million guaranteed, depending on how you count. If Beckham plays on an expiring deal and adds to his historically eye-popping numbers, he’ll have even more negotiating leverage entering next season, and the contract drama could last three or more years. Beckham’s made it clear he’s asking for the moon, but if the Giants wait this year out, they may need to give him the stars too.