PHOENIX — John Mara said that when it came to trading Odell Beckham Jr. earlier this month, the toughest phone calls he had to make were not to his general manager and not to any player. Rather, they were to two of his grandsons when he had to tell them the Giants were parting ways with their favorite player.
“Both of them sobbed uncontrollably on the phone,” Mara, the co-owner of the Giants, said at the NFL’s league meetings on Sunday, addressing for the first time the decisions the franchise made this offseason. “One of them is speaking to me now, the other one is not so sure.”
There were a lot of people outside the Mara family who felt like crying when they heard the news themselves. And there were a lot of people who were thrilled that the Giants had moved on from Beckham.
Ultimately, both Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch said on Sunday, that decision was so big, it had to be made without sentimentality. Tisch called it one of the hardest decisions he and Mara have ever faced. Ultimately, Mara said, he gave the swap his “reluctant approval.”
The Giants wound up trading Beckham to the Browns for first- and third-round picks and starting safety Jabrill Peppers. The deal ultimately was rolled into a pre-existing agreement to trade linebacker Olivier Vernon to the Browns for guard Kevin Zeitler.
Mara insisted it was never the Giants’ intentions to trade Beckham. He said that up until a few days before the Browns and Giants entered into serious discussions, he was convinced that Beckham would be playing for the Giants in 2019. “I think, if we make the right decisions [with the draft picks], we’ll be better off in the long run,” Mara said.
Mara and Tisch spoke glowingly of Beckham as a person and an employee and disputed narratives that they had grown weary of his off-the-field antics. Mara did say it was “a factor” in the decision, though.
“There were always extra issues,” Mara said. “But I thought they were manageable ones, particularly given the talent.”
Mara also said — angrily at times — that just as emotion had no role in the decision to trade Beckham, it has played no role in the organization’s decision to stick with Eli Manning at quarterback for at least the start of the 2019 season.
“Do I feel a certain amount of sentimentality toward Eli? Of course I do,” he said. “But would I ever let that get in the way of making a football decision? Absolutely not . . . We’d never tell a coach or a general manager we have to keep this guy because we love him or because he’s done so much for the franchise. Make a football decision based on whether you think he can play or not.”
Mara thinks Manning can.
“I do believe we can win with him,” he said, “if we continue to surround him with the right people.”
If the haul from the Beckham trade helps accomplish that, all the better.