Odell Beckham Jr. escaped from New York, but the All-Pro wide receiver cannot escape the drama. And the Cleveland Browns star has only himself to blame.
Beckham seemed ecstatically relieved to be traded to Cleveland in March. He joined his best friend, Jarvis Landry, on an up-and-coming Browns team brimming with exciting young talent. Baker Mayfield is the anti-Eli Manning at quarterback, a brash young playmaker not afraid to take chances or court attention. It presented Beckham an opportunity to settle in and be part of the story, not the feature story on the New York Post for his eccentric personality.
Cleveland, for its part, quickly embraced Beckham. It was all smiles at an introductory press conference featuring Beckham, Landry, Mayfield, and Myles Garrett, a ridiculously impressive young core of a rising team. The local media fawned over the star wattage. Surely Beckham would appreciate the lesser spotlight and decidedly positive coverage away from the scrutiny of New York.
The Cleveland media coverage, of which I’m a part as the managing editor of USA TODAY’s Browns Wire, remained encouraging and positive regarding Beckham. We gave him the benefit of the doubt for the radical change he was experiencing.
Then came OTAs…which Beckham decided to skip.
If Beckham was looking to turn over a new leaf, he ignored the budding tree right in front of him. Instead of showing up and ingratiating himself to his new teammates, new coaches and new fanbase, Beckham showed why he’s been tough to love.
While Mayfield and the rest of the Browns offense work out in Berea and learn new head coach Freddie Kitchens’ offense, Beckham opted to do his own thing. He spent a weekend in Monaco and showed off a $300K customized orange-and-brown Rolls Royce.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. These OTAs are voluntary, and Beckham is hardly the only player choosing to not volunteer time with his team. Beckham’s former Giants teammate, Damon Harrison, skipped all of the OTAs with the Detroit Lions, as an example.
While the sessions are strictly voluntary, there is still a bias towards players who choose to not attend. Something about a work ethic and an appreciation of being paid millions to play a game for a living. ‘Merica.
Beckham could have avoided the drama. He could have nipped any criticism in the bud. But now it flowers into negative attention and scrutiny. One of the big reasons why Beckham wanted out of New York was the constant media attention, the predisposition for negative stories from the critical media.
Little of that existed in Cleveland until Beckham created it by choosing to let it live and breathe. Now the small segments of Negative Nellies are emboldened. Validated, even.
It didn’t have to be that way. It didn’t need to be that way. But Beckham either didn’t realize it or consciously chose to let it happen. Simply showing up and being involved with his teammates would have engendered so much goodwill, so much positive shine. But that’s not Odell Beckham’s way.
If I were in his position, joining a new team with a chance for a fresh start, I’d be in Berea working with my team even though it’s voluntary. I hoped Beckham would value that. My sense in talking to people in and around the Browns is they feel the same way.
But it’s really not much of a story. Beckham has proven beyond any doubt he’s a freakish performer. He’s worked out on his own with Mayfield and Landry before he even joined the Browns. He has not missed anything he’s required to attend. Beckham not being at Browns OTAs isn’t any bigger of a deal than Terrell Suggs skipping the sessions with his new team, the Arizona Cardinals. Hell, Tom Brady is skipping Patriots OTAs, and he’s not the only New England player not participating.
If and when Beckham misses a day of mandatory minicamp -- which runs next week for the Browns -- then it’s a problem for the football team. Until then, it’s only an issue for the media looking for a negative angle. Yet it’s still disappointing Beckham elected to sell the drama.