Dave Gettleman was telling the truth when he said the Giants didn’t sign Odell Beckham Jr. to trade him. John Mara believed the receiver was a transcendent star the franchise could market and build around. Pat Shurmur, perhaps his greatest champion in the building, had worked overtime to build a relationship with the man he thought would be the linchpin of his offense.
So what happened? How did everything go so wrong that the Giants were willing to ship Beckham away less than seven months after giving him a five-year, $90 million contract?
“He had become too much of a pain in the ass,” said one source familiar with the situation. “And there was a real fear that eventually it would get worse.”
That is as good an explanation for any for why the Giants sent the 26-year-old Beckham to the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday night for a first-round pick (17th overall), a third-round pick and safety Jabrill Peppers. It was “absolutely not a football decision,” according to one team source. The Giants are well aware that replacing Beckham on the field might be impossible.
But off the field they had grown tired of dealing with his headaches, and as Gettleman explained to reporters at the NFL scouting combine two weeks ago, “part of the responsibility of a general manager is to eliminate distractions.” Beckham had become a lightning rod in New York, and no matter how the Giants tried to manage him, they couldn’t keep him out of the spotlight.
Also, they did not feel he was truly happy playing in New York and for a Giants franchise that was struggling, one source said. And after seeing the way Antonio Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh over the last few months, there was a worry that in a year or two – especially if the Giants and their quarterback continued to struggle — Beckham could go that route, too.
So they listened to offers on and off for the last year, hoping to get something close to two first-round picks in return, multiple sources said. The Browns only had one to offer, but when they were willing to throw in Peppers – a player the Giants loved in the 2017 draft – Gettleman convinced everyone it was time to move.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, of course. After Shurmur was hired as the new Giants’ head coach in January 2018, he did everything he could to build a relationship with Beckham at a difficult time in the receiver’s career. Beckham was rehabbing from the ankle injury that cost him most of the 2017 season, and was doing it mostly in Los Angeles. He also wanted a new contract and negotiations hadn’t gotten anywhere, which led him to be distant from the team.
Not long after that, the famous video came out of him in bed in Paris with a woman, a pizza, and what looked to many like marijuana. The Giants, from the owners on down, were furious at him. That’s when they started listening to trade offers and refused to commit to him being on the 2018 team.
Shurmur, though, spoke to Beckham often, visited him in Los Angeles, and even convinced him to attend part of the Giants’ offseason program – something he wasn’t planning to do at all. He behaved and managed to convince the Giants he was worth the long-term investment, which led to his record-breaking deal.
But when the season started, the Giants’ struggled and Beckham became frustrated – particularly with Manning, whom he clearly thought was in decline. Then, in early October, he infuriated Shurmur and Giants management by going on ESPN – without telling the team – and doing an interview where he was asked if the Giants had a quarterback problem. His answer: “I don’t know.”
In that same interview, Beckham was asked if he was happy in New York and he said “It’s a tough question,” before he waxed poetic about the sunshine in California. That did not sit well with Mara, coming about a month after the owner gave him a $20 million signing bonus and guaranteeing him $65 million to play for a New York team.
“I think he needs to do a little more playing,” Mara said at the time, “and a little less talking.”
Behind the scenes, it got worse. Beckham didn’t hide his unhappiness with the offense, particularly when talking to his fellow receivers. Manning publicly remained supportive of Beckham, and insisted he wasn’t affected by his receiver’s seeming lack of support. But some of his friends were sure Manning was bothered by what seemed like a needless distraction.
The Giants certainly were, and so was Shurmur. They were also furious late in the season when Beckham suffered an injured quad that seemed to be healing before he was suddenly inactive for a game against the Redskins. The Giants kept the injury shrouded in mystery. Then Beckham broke protocol by revealing the timing of it and the diagnosis (a “hematoma”) in a Facebook post.
Yes, each of those is seemingly a minor infraction. But one of Gettleman’s priorities has been to clean up the locker room and get everyone to think and play as a team. Beckham was loved by most of his teammates. He was known to be an incredibly hard worker.
But there’s no doubt the off-the-field distractions were constantly there.
“You’ve got to eliminate distractions,” Gettleman said at the combine, and not specifically about Beckham. “There used to be a thing I used to call ‘the a–hole quotient.’ The bigger the a–hole you are, the better the player you had to be. Plain and simple. It’s funny (but) it’s true. It really is. Think of the great players that you’ve seen around the league who have been just complete jerks. At the end of the day, what was the sum total of their career and their effect on their teams?”
Gettleman clearly decided that for all Beckham’s ability, his effect on his team was an overall negative. And if Manning struggled again this year, and Beckham had to deal with a rookie quarterback, it had the potential to get worse over time. And Gettleman’s biggest concern with the Giants was the “culture” he was creating.
“I’ve been to seven (Super Bowls),” Gettleman said. “And every single team had a great locker room. I’m telling you. I’ve been to seven of them and they all had great locker rooms. Part of the responsibility of a general manager is to eliminate distractions. Allow players to play and coaches to coach. And unfortunately, guys that have character issues create distractions. They do.”
Again, he wasn’t talking specifically about Beckham. But it’s clear that in Gettleman’s vision of the perfect Giants’ locker room, a headline-grabbing, spotlight-loving, superstar receiver just didn’t fit in.