BEREA, Ohio — No looking back. No regrets. No relitigating how it all went wrong with the Giants and how he ended up here, in a sprawling field house wearing an orange and white jersey with his familiar No. 13.
There will be no more headlines, at least not now, for Odell Beckham Jr. about his five tumultuous seasons in New York. No ripping Pat Shurmur. Or Dave Gettleman. Or anything about how the sequence of events unfolded and brought him to the Browns in a stunning trade in March.
For Beckham, this is now about what lies ahead, what good can come from being with a new team whose flashy quarterback and talent-laden roster have transformed the Browns from a hopeless franchise into the most hyped team of the 2019 season.
“Love it, very happy to be here,” Beckham told Newsday after a two-plus hour practice in searing heat Friday. “Just able to start over and play football and focus on the things that really matter.”
Beckham had already made his feelings known about his bitter divorce with the Giants in an off-season interview for GQ Magazine, and his criticism of Shurmur and Gettleman created a stir just as training camps were about to open. But now, it is all about what comes next, even if hard feelings remain about how it all went down.
Beckham didn’t care to discuss those feelings — “don’t want to talk about New York,” he said — but it’s silly to think he isn’t still bothered that the only team he’d played for, the team that gave him a $90 million contract extension last year, had decided to move on. Players harbor ill will in these situations, and Beckham can be expected to feel bitterness for quite some time.
Beckham said he’d never heard of Sam Huff when I asked if he was aware of his anger at being traded to the Redskins a lifetime ago (1964). In Huff’s case, he never got over the trade. Ever. I once ran into Huff at a Redskins practice. He was around 70 at the time and still doing color commentary on the team’s radio broadcasts at the time. I asked if he still thinks about the trade.
Huff’s eyes narrowed, and the vitriol he expressed toward former Giants coach Allie Sherman, who was behind the decision to get rid of him, was stunning. He made it clear he still hated — yes, hated — Sherman for that decision.
Beckham may not carry that kind of bitterness with him over the years; in fact, his former LSU and Giants teammate, Russell Shepard, told me a few days ago he thinks Beckham and the Giants will eventually reunite to celebrate the receivers’ time with the team. But it’s certainly not a stretch to think Beckham’s feelings about the trade are still raw.
That said, there is much work to be done now, and he enthusiastically looks forward to providing the Browns’ offense the kind of game-changing talent he’d given the Giants the previous five seasons. For Beckham, it is now about celebrating a new beginning, not harping on the past.
“I feel like, regardless of who (else) has, I’ve given myself a clean slate,” he said. “I know this place has. I know coach (Freddie Kitchens) has. The players have, so I’m just excited for this opportunity.”
It was easy to spot Beckham on the field at practice. There he is, catching a short pass to Baker Mayfield’s right and taking it upfield for 11 yards. And there again, catching a slant over the middle, good for 15. But it was a pass he didn’t catch that stuck out from this practice.
On a red zone drill, Beckham lined up to Mayfield’s left, and ran toward the end zone. Bracketed by two defensive backs, Beckham leaped for Mayfield’s pass in the end zone, but couldn’t hold on.
“That was the first time we did it,” Beckham said. “We talked about doing something if (the defense) plays a certain way. (Despite the double coverage), I still felt like I should have made the catch. As tight of a window, as tough as it was, I wanted to make that catch. I say I catch it nine times out of 10. I guess that was the one time out of 10. You just gotta work on that.”
The Browns believe Beckham will add the kind of explosiveness to the Browns’ offense that he did with the Giants. That’s why general manager John Dorsey made the deal in March, sending former first-round safety Jabrill Wilson, a first-round pick (17th overall, which the Giants used to select Clemson defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence) and a third-rounder (Old Dominion defensive end Oshane Zimines). He joins an offense that features Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick from last year, and veteran receiver Jarvis Landry, Beckham’s former teammate at LSU and one of his closest friends.
Landry’s presence alone has helped smooth the emotional transition for Beckham.
“I mean, we still look at each other and it’s like, ‘We’re in the same building. We’re at work right now,’” Beckham said. “It’s just crazy. It’s like unreal to me.”
The potential is unlimited, although the Browns would do well to try and tamp down expectations, given how optimistic some observers have been about how good they can be this season.
“It’s like being on an AAU team,” Beckham said. “Everybody around you is good. When you have so many weapons, and when I see Jarvis running down the seam wide open and you see him go up and make the catch, it’s inspiring. You see other people make plays and you want to make plays. Everybody wants to make plays. The goal would be in each and every game to make as many plays as possible and see the outcome. The defense we have, I don’t feel like people are going to score many points.”
But there is much work to be done, starting with Beckham and the receivers getting on the same page with Mayfield. Last week, Mayfield yelled at his receivers to make sure they came back toward him when he was scrambling.
“(Mayfield) is the general, we’re the chiefs,” Beckham said. “He’s trying to get you open so he can make a throw. I completely understand it. You got a guy like Baker and the way that he is, you want to work. There’s nothing else. I just want to work for him.”
It is a new beginning and a fresh start after an eventful five seasons with the Giants, during which time Beckham made news with his spectacular catches, but also with his fits of temper on the field and some controversial moments off the field.
No looking back.
For now, anyway.