PHOENIX — John Mara never once thought the Giants would actually trade Odell Beckham Jr. until just days before they actually did. And even in the final hour, he needed one last car ride home from the office before he gave his “reluctant approval” to the deal.
And he only did because, despite Beckham’s “unique talent”, Mara believes the Giants could be a better team in the future given what they received from the Cleveland Browns in return.
“The way I look at it: Is what we got in return going to make our team better in the long run? I think it will if we make the right decisions,” Mara said at the Arizona Biltmore hotel, site of the annual NFL owners meetings. “It’s not easy. That’s why it took a long time to come to grips with the fact that we were going to be moving him to another team, because I just felt like that was not going to happen throughout most of the winter. I think what we’re getting in return is going to make us hopefully a better team in the long run, if we make the right decisions.”
The Giants, of course, got a first-round pick (17th overall) and a third-round pick (95th) in this upcoming NFL draft, plus 23-year-old safety Jabrill Peppers. Acquiring Peppers was the key, because Mara said, “I recall that all of our people were very high on Peppers coming out of the (2017) draft … Including him in this deal pushed him over the edge for us given that all our football people had very high opinions of him.”
But the total package was just as important. Though losing Beckham created a huge void at receiver — partially filled by the signing of 30-year-old Golden Tate — Mara believes the Giants will now have three young players and possibly potential starters who can fill other holes immediately. And if there’s one thing the last two seasons taught him, it’s that the Giants have plenty of holes.
“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, and it’s not easy to trade that player to another team,” he said. “But I understand also that we have a lot of holes that we need to fill and if we make the right decisions with that first pick and with the third pick, and we obviously like Jabrill Peppers a lot, and that filled a need too … So ultimately I gave my 50 percent share of the approval.”
It still wasn’t easy, though, because the trade came less than seven months after the Giants gave Beckham a five-year, $90 million contract with $65 million guaranteed. At that point, the Giants had already staved off several teams that made inquiries about trading for him last spring. Mara said they gave Beckham the big contract because “we went into the season thinking we were going to keep him long term.”
By reversing course on Beckham so quickly, the Giants ended up paying him $21 million for just 12 games, and he will still count for $16 million against their salary cap this year.
“We didn’t love the fact that it worked out that way, that we paid him all that money,” Mara said. “At the time we made the decision though, we 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. It seemed like the right decision at the time.”
Even after signing Beckham to that big contract, though, speculation swirled that Beckham was available in trade — particularly last spring when the controversial video surfaced of Beckham in bed with a woman and a pizza and what appeared to be marijuana. Media reports indicated that Beckham was on the block, even though Mara insisted he wasn’t, so teams kept calling. And it all started again this spring.
Mara said the Browns “got aggressive at the end,” and very quickly the deal was made.
“We didn’t set out looking to trade him,” Mara said. “My position on this with Dave was: We’re not giving him away, but if there is an offer that we all think is going to improve the team in the long run then we’ll consider doing it.”
Ultimately, he said, that’s what happened. They found a way to trade Beckham and, hopefully, improve the team.