That’s the question most Giants fans were asking Wednesday morning as they awoke to the realities of Beckxit.
Why did the Giants trade one of the most talented and dynamic playmakers in their history Tuesday night for two draft picks and a safety? Why did Dave Gettleman sign Odell Beckham Jr. to a massive extension and make him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL in August, then change his mind on Beckham’s value to the organization within seven months? Why did Gettleman say he did not sign Beckham to trade him … and then trade him?
Gettleman may not give a satisfactory answer to those questions the next time he speaks to the media, but what he has said during his tenure with the Giants can be parsed into figuring out what he was thinking as he agreed to the trade that will, for better or worse, define his career as a general manager.
At the Combine late last month, Gettleman made remarks that are coming full circle. They weren’t about Beckham directly, but in retrospect they may have been.
"I’ve been to seven [Super Bowls] and every single team had a great locker room,” he said. “I’m not saying you can never take a chance on a guy, but part of the responsibility of a general manager is to eliminate distractions, allow players to play, and coaches to coach. Unfortunately, guys who have character issues create distractions.”
Did Beckham have character issues? Well, he was never arrested, never accused of any particularly torrid activities, and never investigated by the league for violating the personal conduct policy or any of the other parameters the NFL sets as standards of citizenship. Yes, he was suspended for one game in 2015 after he tried to decapitate the Panthers' Josh Norman (when Gettleman, by the way, was GM of the Panthers). Do we consider that an on-field or off-field matter? At some point with Beckham, they do start to blend.
But there were other distractions, less serious and more, well, irritating to the coaches, front office and ownership. The cramps that required halftime IVs. The interviews on ESPN and the viral videos that were less than flattering. The murky tweets and Instagram posts that hinted at his dissatisfaction but were just vague enough to deny any wrongdoing.
And during games, there was always a sense the Giants had to get the ball to Beckham. That stood to reason as he was often their best player. But it created a spectator-filled offense, 10 guys waiting for one to bail them out with some kind of marvelous athleticism. That was balanced a bit with the arrival of Saquon Barkley last year, but the anticipation still lingered that if the Giants got the ball to Beckham enough, something magical was bound to happen. That’s not a healthy mindset for an offense.
Another thing Gettleman spoke about at the Combine was what we will call “The [Jerk] Quotient” (for which he had a more vulgar name).
"The bigger the [jerk] you are, the better the player you have to be,” he said. “Plain and simple. It’s funny, but it’s true. It’s a weird way of looking at life. But think of the great players around the league who have been just complete jerks. At the end of the day, what was the sum total of their careers and the effect on their teams?
“Talent sets the stage. Character sets the ceiling.”
Many of Beckham’s teammates will dispute that he was a, um, jerk. He was pretty well adored and respected in the locker room. He helped young players, related to veterans, and practiced hard whenever he was on the field. But the players are not the ones who traded him. The Giants’ management did. And to them, it’s fairly clear that Beckham’s place on that quotient that Gettleman spoke about had tipped from one side of the equation to the other.
Not many teams part ways with such talent so early in a career. Beckham, 26, could play another 10 years and be a Hall of Famer. He could achieve his goals of breaking all of Jerry Rice’s records. He could do for Cleveland football what his buddy LeBron James did for Cleveland basketball and give them a championship after generations of futility. And his departure may set the Giants on a course for a tailspin that could rival their swoon from 1964 through 1980.
One example of such a trade comes to mind. In 1919, the Red Sox traded a dazzling young talent named Babe Ruth to the Yankees, a fork in the road for both franchises for 85 years. Legend has it that Red Sox owner Harry Frazee agreed to the deal to help finance a Broadway play he was producing.
The Giants traded Beckham for the opposite reason. They wanted to avoid drama, not be a patron to it.