That Odell Beckham Jr. was missing from this week’s organized team activities, a voluntary practice opportunity but one that coaches encourage with gusto, shouldn’t raise any red flags in and of itself. After all, there is no rule that requires a player to attend, even if the overwhelming majority of NFL players show up for most, if not all, of the offseason practices.
No, what’s troubling about Beckham’s absence is the company he’s keeping as he organizes his own training regimen. When pictures and videos surfaced this week of Beckham training with quarterback Johnny Manziel, the poster boy for troubled football players, it made observers wonder if Beckham is thinking straight, and whether he understands the optics of what he does and how he’s perceived.
Beckham is coming off a second straight season in which his conduct on and off the field has been a serious issue, and catching passes from Manziel and not Eli Manning doesn’t promote the narrative from within the organization that Beckham is showing signs of maturity.
Manziel’s career track is about as pathetic as it gets: a former first-round pick who didn’t take football seriously, couldn’t come to grips with a drinking problem, had a domestic dispute with his girlfriend and did everything the wrong way.
He hopes to get back into the NFL someday but probably will face a suspension for violating its personal-conduct policy if a team does give him another shot.
This is the guy Beckham is hanging out with instead of the teammates he’ll go to battle with on Sundays in the fall?
At the very least, it’s a bad optic, just as another picture on social media several months ago proved to be a bad look.
Beckham and several teammates flew to Miami the week before the Giants’ first playoff game since 2011, and that photo of the shirtless wide receivers created plenty of controversy. That Beckham had a poor game as the Giants were blown out by the Packers didn’t help his image. Nor did the hole he punched in the locker-room wall at Lambeau Field.
And now there’s the offseason no-show.
“You want all your players here, especially your great players,” coach Ben McAdoo said, a not-so-subtle shot at Beckham and defensive end Olivier Vernon, who also was absent Thursday. “It’s a time to build fundamentals, communication and chemistry. You want all your players here.”
Will Beckham show up for future OTAs? He wouldn’t say when contacted Thursday by NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones, although he indicated he’ll be at the mandatory minicamp June 13-15. He also told Jones, “I love my team and am excited about the season.”
There is increasing chatter that Beckham’s absence might stem from his contract situation. He’s in the fourth year of his rookie deal and is due to make $1.8 million this season. His salary will increase to $8.5 million next season, but Beckham’s production far outpaces his salary. In fact, he makes more money off the field than on it. He signed a shoe contract with Nike reportedly worth $25 million over five years.
Beckham’s teammates didn’t take issue with his absence.
“He is not here, but I know he is handling his business and he will be ready when he comes in,” wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “When he has been here, we have gotten great work in, and he is a special, special talent. Of course it is always good when you have your full team there, but he is out working hard. This kid is the real deal. He is special and he is a freak.”
No argument there. Beckham’s talents are off the charts, and he’s still in the nascent stages of his career. But if you keep spending your time with a guy like Johnny Manziel, you’re just not helping yourself.
Or your team.
Or the people who are counting on you to be the face of the franchise.