PHOENIX — The toughest call, John Mara said, was the one he made to two of his grandsons, informing them their grandfather was trading away their favorite Giants player, Odell Beckham Jr.
“Both of ’em sobbed uncontrollably on the phone,’’ Mara said Sunday at the NFL’s annual league meeting. “One of them is speaking to me now, the other one is not so sure. I say that half-kiddingly but it was not an easy decision.’’
It was the decision the Giants made, from the top on down, with general manager Dave Gettleman earlier this month informing Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch a deal was in place to send the superstar receiver to Cleveland. Tisch listened to the terms — the Browns first-round pick (No. 17 overall) and a third-round pick (No. 95 overall) in the 2019 draft, plus 23-year old safety Jabrill Peppers — then gave his approval. Mara needed more time and drove home to contemplate the trigger his franchise was about to pull.
“I will tell you it was a reluctant approval on my part, because I happen to like Odell very much and I recognize the unique talent that he has,’’ Mara said. “It’s not easy to trade that player to another team.
“I understand also we have a lot of holes we need to fill and if we make the right decisions with that first pick and with that third pick, we obviously like Jabrill Peppers a lot. Ultimately I gave my 50 percent share of the approval.’’
Gettleman explained he went back on his “We didn’t sign Odell to trade him’’ intention because “another team made an offer we couldn’t refuse.’’ Adding three players to a team that went 5-11 last season and 3-13 in 2017 made sense to the front office and ownership, but there were other factors at work in this deal. Beckham was at times an irritant, to ownership on down, with his antics and comments and social media musings. Mara did not deny that played a factor in parting ways with such a dynamic talent.
“Honestly, there were times when it did bother me and I had conversations with him about it, but it was never to the point where we said to Dave, ‘You got to get rid of this guy,’ ” Mara said. “It never reached that point. But is it a factor in the final decision? Yeah, it’s a factor. The thing about him, though, is he’s a good guy. He did a lot of good things with us. He was terrific with the Make-A-Wish kids we brought into the facility every week. It wasn’t like we were getting rid of a guy who was gonna be a criminal. Yeah, he was somebody, there was always some extra issues he brought into the building every day. But it was never to the point where it was unmanageable.’’
Tisch called trading Beckham “a tough decision, one of the toughest I’ve had to make, I’ll say we’ve had to make, in a long, long time.’’
Mara grew noticeably irritated when he was asked if Beckham was traded because the Giants view him as a bad guy.
“He knows that’s not the case and that has never been our position with him,’’ Mara said. “We wouldn’t have signed him to that contract if we thought he was a bad guy or somebody that was going to constantly be in trouble.’’
Last August, the decision was made to sign Beckham to a five-year, $90 million contract and the Giants paid him $21.5 million for what amounted to 12 games last season. Beckham will count $16 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. Mara said he “didn’t love the fact it worked out that way and we paid him all that money’’ but did not second-guess giving Beckham a new deal.
“At the time we made the decision, he had a new head coach, we did not want it to be a distraction and we did want him to be a Giant for a long period of time,’’ Mara said. “It seemed like the right decision at the time.’’
The Giants not long ago believe they would be the beneficiaries of Beckham’s exploits. Now they will watch him from afar.
“It’s not gonna be easy, I won’t lie to you,’’ Mara said. “I mean, he’s a great player and I hope he has a great career with the Browns. It makes it a little easier that he’s not in our conference.’’
Mara said he has “very strong feelings about Odell’ and he is “gonna miss seeing him around.’’ Those feelings, and those of his grandsons, were not enough to prevent Beckham from becoming a former Giants player.
“You can’t let sentiment get in the way,’’ Mara said, “and I think ultimately if we make the right decisions we’ll be better off in the long run.’’