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Odell Is the Rare Player Who Transcends the Helmet—and the Giants Just Traded Him

Tuesday’s shocking trade of the star wideout netted them two draft picks and a promising young safety from the Cleveland Browns. But what it cost them may be irreplaceable.

Odell Beckham Jr. leaps to catch a ball during a warmup Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Odell Beckham Jr. photo that encapsulates his impact as a professional athlete is not the one of his famous one-handed catch in 2014, which was nominated for the best sports photo of the year by the World Press, nor the photo of his Louis Vuitton–Supreme crossover walking boot in 2017, nor the myriad photos of him living in Drake’s house. The photo that truly captures Odell’s reach is a picture of him at a football camp he held last summer with kids who had dyed their hair just to look like him.

The Giants have traded Beckham to the Cleveland Browns, giving up on a player whose athletic dexterity, grace, and swagger was unrivaled in the NFL and whose receiving production through his first 47 games was in a three-person tier that consists of Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, and himself. But much more importantly, they also traded away the one NFL player who had a cultural resonance that transcended the traditional boundaries that usually contain NFL athletes. Not many players who wear helmets inspire a hairstyle.

In exchange for Beckham, the Giants received the no. 17 overall pick and a third-rounder in a defense-heavy draft, plus über-athletic safety Jabrill Peppers. For their trouble, the Giants are eating $16 million of dead money this year that will be allocated to Beckham as he plays for the Browns, as the signing bonus the team has already paid Beckham will now all count against their cap in 2019. For Giants fans (disclosure: I am one), Eli Manning’s outlasting Beckham as a member of the team is incomprehensible. While rumors of a Beckham trade have been floated for more than a year, the team signed him to the biggest extension ever for a wide receiver in August. Twice in 2019, including two weeks ago, general manager Dave Gettleman told reporters, “We didn’t sign Odell to trade him.”

The Giants could definitely use draft capital, especially if it helps them acquire a starting quarterback to replace Manning. The team could stand pat and use the picks to build around Manning (though his numbers with and without Beckham on the field go from meh to atrocious). Peppers could be one of the league’s best safeties if he lives up to his potential. He has a higher ceiling than Landon Collins, whom the Giants declined to franchise-tag before he signed with division rival Washington, but Peppers also has a lower floor. With Beckham and Collins gone, the Giants don’t have a single player on the team they drafted between 2011 and 2015. The odds the Giants can get the same production out of the picks they received is deeply unlikely unless they trade up for a quarterback, and even then, the question will be why they didn’t just select a quarterback last year when they had the no. 2 overall pick. Even if they do draft a new quarterback, whether it is Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, or another player, the chances they can grow bigger than Beckham’s shadow are low.

Looking at Beckham’s new home, the Cleveland Browns are suddenly a Super Bowl contender. In Las Vegas, their odds have already been slashed from 25-1 to 14-1, twice as high as the Steelers, who just traded their own star receiver for an even worse return. One year after Beckham tried to get his LSU teammate Jarvis Landry to come to the Giants, both have been traded to the Browns. Cleveland’s offense with Baker Mayfield now features the best pass-catching group in football by far with Beckham, Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, and tight end David Njoku. It also features second-year running back Nick Chubb, who played excellently last year behind a strong offensive line. Head coach Freddie Kitchens and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who led Tampa Bay’s shockingly good offense last year, are now in charge. Much more importantly, Hue Jackson, Todd Haley, and Gregg Williams are not. The Browns could field an Air Raid offense in 2019 that at its best could compete with what the Kansas City Chiefs did last year as Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes II take their spots as the future of the sport.

The Browns defense could also be worlds better in 2019; the team added Giants pass rusher Olivier Vernon in a trade last week and signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to play alongside no. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett on the defensive line. Cleveland could be one of the best teams in the league this year. If not for signing Kareem Hunt, it would also unambiguously be the most fun.

In the NBA there is an increasing trend of fans who follow players, not teams. There are LeBron fans who have followed him from Cleveland to Miami back to Cleveland and now to Los Angeles. No NFL players have that sort of mass following in football right now, but I bet that Beckham will. Most football players are anonymous underneath their pads, but Beckham transcends his helmet.