Odell Beckham Jr. has signed a five-year contract extension that’s worth $65 million guaranteed, and could be worth up to $95 million, to remain in New York, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. He’s now the highest-paid receiver by guaranteed money, total money, and average annual salary. Let’s go live to the Giants locker room:
You think the #NYG locker room is happy Odell got the bag? From Sterling Shepard's instagram story 3 minutes ago pic.twitter.com/iQRbv42SWo— PreSZN Ethan (@EthanGSN) August 27, 2018
There aren’t many players like Beckham, who has had one of the best starts to a career in NFL history. His 4,424 career receiving yards are the most all time through 47 career games, and his 38 receiving touchdowns rank fourth through 47 games, behind Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Rob Gronkowski. Antonio Brown may be the most refined route-runner, and DeAndre Hopkins may be the best jump-ball specialist, but Beckham remains the most electrifying player in the league. He’s also been crucial to the Giants’ success 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
The deal for the 25-year-old solidifies New York’s skill group of Beckham, offseason-workout folk hero Saquon Barkley, and tight end Evan Engram, who will be together for the next half-decade, plus receiver Sterling Shepard, who will be a free agent after next year. When Le’Veon Bell inevitably leaves Pittsburgh next year, the Giants will have the best group of skill players in the league. Now that the franchise has locked up its offense into the mid-2020s, the team has only one question left: What do they do at quarterback?
Eli Manning will turn 38 in January, and the Giants just passed on what could be their best opportunity to replace him. With the no. 2 overall pick in the draft, the Giants had their choice of non–Baker Mayfield quarterbacks to serve as the heir to Manning. They also could have traded down (perhaps for the no. 6 pick and three second-round picks the Colts got for the third overall pick) and still draft an elite player (it turns out UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson were still on the board at no. 6). General manager Dave Gettleman took Barkley. As the second pick in the draft, Barkley already has the fourth-largest contract at his position because of a dying free-agent market for running backs that makes the pick seem even less valuable. Everything that we’ve learned about team-building since 2011, both from the economics of the CBA and the passing revolution around the league, suggests quarterbacks are the key ingredient to successful NFL longevity, and a passer on a rookie deal is the most valuable asset in the league. Now the Giants have eschewed that basic formula and are sticking with Manning, who will have an average cap hit of $22.7 million over the next two seasons.
In the age of ageless athletes, Manning could certainly rejuvenate his career. This is by far the most talented group of skill players he’s ever seen, and New York improved its offensive line by signing left tackle Nate Solder to a behemoth contract and drafting hard-nosed UTEP guard Will Hernandez in the second round this year. But former GM Jerry Reese said Manning was on the “back nine” of his career after the 2016 season, and if he departs—whether through retirement or poor play forcing the team’s hand—the Giants may have Ferraris sitting in the garage without anyone old enough to drive. Backup Davis Webb has looked overwhelmed in the preseason, and fourth-rounder out of Richmond Kyle Lauletta seems promising but is still raw.
The Giants may still have a chance to draft a quarterback next year if the team putzes its way to another top-five pick. Every NFL team seems, if only for a moment, to have a franchise quarterback on its roster in 2018, meaning the Giants might be able to draft a top quarterback next year (like Mizzou’s Drew Lock, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, West Virginia’s Will Grier, or Penn State’s Trace McSorley) without trading down. But if Manning is not quite good enough to compete in the playoffs but not bad enough to land a top-10 pick, the Giants could be in purgatory.
The Giants are going to be among the most exciting and relevant teams for the foreseeable NFL future, whether the team is dancing in the end zone or in the locker room to celebrate record-setting contracts. Whether or not the Giants are any good, however, depends not just on how good Manning is or how quickly they can replace him, but whether the Giants’ plan to zag when every other team is zigging actually works.