Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen about all the latest from Orlando where the NFL is holding its annual league meeting. (March 26, 2018)
ORLANDO, Fla. – Odell Beckham Jr. is on the trading block. That has to get Brian Gutekunst’s attention.
How could it not? Beckham is in his prime (age 25) and as talented as any receiver in the game. Just think of the damage an offense could do with him, Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham running routes all over the field, and Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
With offensive firepower like that, Gutekunst, the Packers’ general manager, wouldn’t need even a top-20 defense to challenge for the Super Bowl. Theoretically, at least.
And it’s not like Gutekunst is unwilling to spend more money at receiver. He made a hard run at free agent Allen Robinson, who told a Florida TV station this week that his choice for a new team two weeks ago came down to the Packers and Chicago Bears.
Robinson chose Chicago’s three-year deal that averages $14 million, but the Packers must have at least been in the ballpark financially to make his final two. And on the same day that Robinson agreed to sign with Chicago, tight end Jimmy Graham agreed to sign with the Packers for $10 million a year.
That means Gutekunst and team vice president Russ Ball were working on those deals simultaneously. Were they willing to bring in both if it had worked out? Don’t see why not. If worse came to worst, they could have released Randall Cobb or Bryan Bulaga to ease any salary-cap crunch.
So price alone shouldn’t be a deal-breaker in considering Beckham. He’ll be more expensive than Robinson but he’s also a better player. If they could afford Robinson at $13 million or $14 million a year, they can afford Beckham at $16 million or $17 million.
When the reports hit this week that the New York Giants are willing to trade the temperamental but gifted Beckham, I was set to argue that the Packers should take the risk and make a hard push. Offer a decent trade and sign him long term, maybe even the highest contract ever for an NFL receiver, just ahead of Antonio Brown ($17 million a year). Beckham's talent is that striking.
The trade compensation, all things considered, might not be that bad. Mike Sando of ESPN.com looked at several recent receiver trades to make a best guess at what the Giants can get for Beckham, and the closest comparison probably was the deal that sent Percy Harvin to Seattle in 2013 for a first-round pick, a seventh-rounder and a future third-rounder. That deal, by the way, bombed for Seattle. Harvin lasted less than two seasons and caught 23 passes.
Of course, Beckham is on the trading block for a reason, including the report that he’s seeking $20 million a year on his next contract and hints that he’ll hold out until he signs an extension. You’re not going to trade for him unless he agrees to a long-term contract first. He has only one year left, at $8.5 million, on his deal.
But the real reason he’s on the trading block, and the reason those contract demands are a big issue, is Beckham's behavior.
He’s the definition of mercurial. As you might remember, he was suspended for a game after on-field tussles with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman eventually led to his helmet-to-helmet shot on Norman; took a minivacation to Florida a week before playing the Packers in a playoff game in January 2017, and after all the negative publicity from that trip got into his head, he played poorly and afterward punched a hole in the visitor’s locker room at Lambeau Field. According to a report on NJ.com, Beckham has accumulated known game-day fines of $169,017 in four seasons, including early last season when he celebrated a touchdown by getting on all fours in the end zone and lifting his right leg like a dog urinating on a fire hydrant.
In and of themselves, these are hardly deal breakers. But then there was the big red flag earlier this month: a video that went viral showing him in bed holding a brown cigarette or cigar next to a woman with a credit card and a white, powdery substance.
Maybe there’s an innocent explanation. And what he does on his own time in the offseason is his business.
But the video is out there, and it has to give pause to any NFL GM thinking about trading for and more importantly investing heavily in him. Reliability matters, a lot, especially with the highest-paid players on a team. If you signed him and it blew up, the cost on the cap and in the locker room could be enormous.
As Giants owner John Mara said at the NFL owners meeting Sunday, “I'm tired of answering questions about Odell's behavior and what the latest incident is. I think he knows what we expect of him, and now it's up to him.”
Even then, my initial thought Monday was that for, say, a first-round pick and a $17 million-a-year contract, I’d trade for Beckham if I’m the Packers. He’s that talented. His 4,122 yards receiving in his first three seasons — a broken ankle ended his fourth season last October — is second most in league history for a player’s first three years, behind only Randy Moss. When all’s well, Beckham tilts the field.
But then I contacted four NFL scouts for their opinions. At least three of them have a pretty high tolerance for risk, and yet all four said no on investing big money in Beckham.
“Too much drama,” one said.
A second called him “a live wire but a true baller!” in one text. Then when asked if he’d invest in Beckham if he were the Packers, he answered with a flat “no.”
“Too much risk,” a third said.
And the fourth made the argument that’s hard to refute. Do you really think that if you pay big money to a player who has been a problem, the problem will go away? The money only empowers him.
I’m sure there are GMs and scouts who are seriously considering doing a big deal for and with Beckham because they badly need a playmaker. Maybe someone actually will do it.
But now I’m going against my gut reaction. After the first reports that Beckham was available, I thought he was too good not to take a shot. But unless the Packers can get him for a lot less than seems likely, they should say no.