It’s difficult to tally the countless ways the Cleveland Browns have disappointed this season.
But perhaps the most damning non helmet-swinging indictment of the dysfunction in Cleveland is the Browns turning one of the game’s most exciting and undeniable talents into a pedestrian player.
Odell Beckham Jr. has gone from a receiver who thrived even with a washed-up Eli Manning throwing his way to an afterthought in head coach Freddie Kitchens’ offensive scheme and quarterback Baker Mayfield’s progressions.
‘No one knows what the future holds’
That’s why it was no surprise on Thursday to hear Beckham give anything but a ringing endorsement of playing in Cleveland again next season.
“No one knows what the future holds, like tomorrow,” Beckham told reporters. “ ... I couldn't sit here and tell you whether I'm going to be here, want to be here, don't want to be here. This is exactly where I'm at now, and I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.”
That’s not exactly Beckham demanding his way out of town. But they’re not the words of a man who’s excited about a return to Cleveland next season. If he was, he’d surely say so.
It sounds a lot more like a player who’s not happy in an obviously poor football situation but is cognizant of being hit with the complaining diva wide receiver tag that’s followed him through much of his career.
Beckham’s dramatic drop in production in Cleveland
Beckham is coming off a three-catch game that saw him tally 29 yards on six targets in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that all but slammed the door shut on Cleveland’s playoff hopes.
In 12 games this season, Sunday marked the seventh time Beckham saw fewer than 10 targets, the 10th time he was held below 100 yards and the 10th time he’s been held out of the end zone. It was the third game this season he’s been held in the 20s in receiving yardage.
Excluding the 2017 season that saw him play in just four games because of a broken ankle, Beckham never averaged fewer than 85.4 yards per game with the New York Giants. This year, he’s averaging 67.1.
Mayfield not looking Beckham’s way
Beckham averaged 10.5 targets per game in New York. He’s seeing 8.5 per game win Cleveland.
Meanwhile Jarvis Landry has more catches, yards and touchdowns than Beckham. Landry is a reliable target and an outstanding possession receiver. On no planet outside of whatever bubble the Browns are playing in is he a No. 1 option over Beckham.
Despite insisting in November that he’ll “force-feed” Beckham the ball, Mayfield has done anything but. And when he does look Beckham’s way, there’s no guarantee the ball finds its target with accuracy.
Beckham’s contract situation
If Beckham truly does want out of town, it won’t be completely up to him. He’s under contract through the 2023 season thanks to the five-year $90 deal he signed with the Giants last season. But the bulk of the guaranteed money in the deal has already been paid.
Per Spotrac, Beckham would account for $2.75 million in dead cap space next season, and the Browns would be off the hook for the rest of the deal if the two sides did decide to part ways.
But considering the immense talent Beckham presents and the fact that Cleveland sent the Giants first- and third-round draft picks and safety Jabrill Peppers to acquire him, it would take dramatic circumstances for the Browns to cut bait on their significant investment after just one season.
Is Beckham prepared to provide that incentive?
“God has a plan,” Beckham said. “In the offseason everything will figure itself out. I feel like I’ve been here before, answering questions about the next team. And I’m on a team already. That’s something I tune out for right now.
“Catch me in the offseason. We’ll see what happens.”
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