This was about much more than a likely season-ending injury for Odell Beckham Jr., who on Sunday fractured the left ankle he sprained in preseason.
This was about a potentially franchise-altering decision down the road concerning the wunderkind receiver. Beckham went up for an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter and got his ankle caught under Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward. That gut-wrenching moment not only piled more misery on an already awful Giants season but also could shape Beckham’s future.
The thing you have to ask yourself now: Will Beckham ever be the same again?
The Giants’ decision-makers won’t begin to assess that question for several months, once they have a sense of how Beckham is recovering from the worst injury of his career. But it will be one of the central issues facing an 0-5 team that has begun the season with such colossal ineptitude.
Even the most wide-eyed optimist would agree that the Giants are headed for one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. Yes, they started 2013 0-6 and came back to win seven of their final 10 games. But that was when their roster needed a major overhaul, before an infusion of free-agent defensive talent and before Beckham’s arrival provided an electrifying jolt to an offense in need of fixing.
The Giants look more like the Jets team we expected to see this season. They’re buried in last place in the NFC East, while the Jets are 3-2 and tied for the AFC East lead with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and the Bills.
Until late in the 27-22 loss to the previously winless Chargers, Beckham was one of the only Giants worth watching. He’s their best player, and his performance was the only thing that gave them even a chance at winning. They came close the last three weeks against the Eagles, Bucs and Chargers, and he was their only consistent offensive threat in all three games. Against the Chargers, his 48-yard touchdown gave the Giants a 22-17 fourth-quarter lead.
Perhaps his value will come into even greater focus now that the Giants must move on without him for what surely will be the rest of the year. After all, even if he is ready to play before it ends, is it really worth exposing him to additional injury in a disastrous season? The answer is no.
Beckham already has done his part by giving a good-faith effort in the fourth year of his rookie deal, which pays just $1.8 million this season, a salary exceeded by nearly 50 receivers. Despite reports he’d consider a contract holdout, he showed up on Day 1 of training camp, fought through the initial injury from Week 2 of the preseason, and did all he could do.
Team co-owner John Mara repeatedly has said he wants Beckham to finish his career in New York, but that stance is complicated by the injury. There’s no easy answer, especially with Beckham hoping for a new deal before next season, when he’s due to make $8.5 million.
That’s still well below market value, and not even close to the $20 million-a-season — or more — deal Beckham has hinted at. Will the Giants be willing to plunk down that much money for a receiver coming off a serious ankle injury? If not, is Beckham willing to play next season without the assurances of a long-term deal?
The hope here is that Beckham recovers fully and gets himself in a position to earn the kind of contract he deserves. He’s one of the best receivers in the league — and maybe in league history — and deserves to be paid as such. He took a calculated gamble by continuing to play out a deal that isn’t commensurate with his ability, and has lost the leverage that might have led to a blockbuster payoff.
Either way, it’s a devastating blow for Beckham. And maybe an even bigger loss for the Giants, who have almost no hope for the present and suffered an unmistakable blow for the future.