It seemed almost absurd at the time.
Not even seven months after signing Odell Beckham to a five-year, $95 million contract and sending a clear signal that the wide receiver would remain with the team for the rest of his career, the Giants traded a potential Hall of Fame talent to the Browns in a blockbuster deal in March of 2019.
Why? Why would you invest that kind of money in a player at the top of his game and clearly the most talented performer on a team desperate for playmakers? Surely, embattled general manager Dave Gettleman, already a target of criticism for several other questionable decisions, would rue the day he got rid of the greatest receiver in Giants history.
Well, here we are less than two seasons since the trade, and we can now cast a more sweeping judgment on what happened: Gettleman is winning the trade.
Injuries have limited Beckham in his two seasons so far in Cleveland; a hip problem kept him to 1,035 yards and four touchdowns last year, and he’s out for the 2020 season after suffering an ACL tear in Week 7. And with the 9-4 Browns enjoying one of their best seasons in a long time without Beckham for much of the year, there is already speculation the team is ready to move on from him in the offseason.
Yes, Beckham, who electrified the NFL world starting with that spectacular one-handed touchdown catch against the Cowboys on a Sunday night in November of 2014, may be on his third team by next season. An amazing fall from grace for a player who seemed destined for stardom, but whose antics and injuries conspired to leave him well short of achieving his potential.
"I’m disappointed for him," Browns first-year coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He’s a competitor. He loves to play football. Any time you see a guy injured, if it takes them out for a year and they have to get surgery, I just feel sick about it. I know he will bounce back. I know he is well on his way in his rehab. Still disappointed for him and looking forward to him making a full recovery."
Stefanski won’t speculate on Beckham’s future, but with the offense playing well without him, the Browns would almost certainly consider offers to move him if the price is right.
The Giants have benefited from what they got in return for Beckham. Gettleman fetched first- and third-round picks, who turned out to be Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence – a reliable inside presence who has shown improvement in his two seasons in the NFL, and Old Dominion pass rusher Oshane Ximines, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury but showed promise last year with 4 ½ sacks. He’s expected to make a full recovery and be ready for next season.
But the biggest payoff in the deal was safety Jabrill Peppers, who has become one of the Giants’ most impactful defensive players and someone who can be a core member for years to come. Peppers replaced Landon Collins, another excellent safety but a player who commanded far too much in free agency – he got an $84 million deal with Washington.
Not only that, but the Giants also swapped defensive end Olivier Vernon for guard Kevin Zeitler, a deal that has benefited the Giants’ line.
"I’m very happy that Peppers is here with us and Zeitler as well," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "I mean look, I’m really glad those guys are part of our team, that that was able to happen, that we have them here."
Judge called Beckham "a fiercely talented buy, very competitive guy, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a player. I don’t know all the inner workings that happened in the building [before the trade]."
The inner workings were what precipitated the trade in the first place. The team had grown weary of Beckham’s me-first mentality, and while he was an extremely fierce competitor on the field, his public criticism of Eli Manning in an ESPN interview midway through the season was seen in an extremely negative light by the organization. The thinking was that if Beckham wasn’t going to be happy after receiving the richest contract for a receiver in NFL history, then keeping him on the team would present a risk in terms of team chemistry.
Yes, it cost them in terms of salary cap space, and teams can’t get in the habit of dealing away players in just the second year of a big contract. But Beckham’s case was unique.
Then-coach Pat Shurmur bristled at Beckham’s attitude, which made the trade all the more likely. And while Shurmur was fired after last season and replaced by a stricter disciplinarian in Judge, it doesn’t take much to realize Beckham wouldn’t be a good fit for a coach who always demands a team-first attitude.
After all, Judge benched Golden Tate for acting out during a game when he wasn’t getting the ball. You can only imagine how he’d have reacted to Beckham’s frequent fits of pique when he wasn’t involved enough in the offense.
Sure, the Giants could use Beckham’s home-run hitting ability as a receiver, especially with the offense struggling through much of the season. But not at the expense of a more harmonious locker room.
And with Beckham’s career in Cleveland now languishing, it’s Gettleman who comes away knowing he got plenty in return.