'What is the Giants' plan?' NFL execs weigh in on the Odell Beckham Jr. trade


The NFL already was buzzing over a wild prelude to 2019 free agency when the Odell Beckham Jr. trade news broke Tuesday night.

The New York Giants are shipping their star receiver to the Cleveland Brownsfor first- and third-round picks, plus safety Jabrill Peppers.

Within minutes, editors asked me and other ESPN analysts to handicap the reconfigured AFC North. Would the Browns win a division title for the first time since 1989? There was so much to consider.

I spent the next several hours speaking with executives around the league, gathering perspectives on the latest trade to rattle the NFL landscape. In the past six months, superstars Khalil Mack, Antonio Brown and Beckham have been traded.

"This is almost like baseball," a former general manager said. "Teams did not used to do this, getting rid of their star players so easily in megadeals."

What does it all mean? Specifically, what does the Beckham trade mean for the NFL, the Giants and the Browns? Pull up a chair and listen in on conversations with NFL decision-makers.

What could go wrong for Cleveland?

Execs loved the Browns' ability to add such an elite talent, but they raised concerns over the organization's readiness to handle another huge personality.

"The two most stable organizations in the league could not handle Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham," one exec said. "What happens when Beckham goes to the owner in Cleveland?"

Another exec noted that the Browns were asking first-time head coach Freddie Kitchens to manage a team featuring multiple highly-paid players who, to varying degrees, wore out their welcomes with their previous organizations. This exec placed Beckham and Jarvis Landry in that category. He also noted that quarterback Baker Mayfield was another outsized personality, which could be an asset, but also a challenge for Kitchens.

"This move is risky as hell, which is why I love it and hate it," this exec said. "They are throwing Kitchens to the lions. They are talented enough that it might work. I like their team, but when you marry someone who was not faithful in their previous relationship, that is in the DNA. That would scare me to death in Cleveland."

This exec compared the Browns to an NBA team while questioning whether Cleveland had a Phil Jackson or Steve Kerr to manage the personalities. Some raised similar questions about the Los Angeles Rams following their veteran talent grab last offseason, but there were differences. The Rams had already seen how coach Sean McVay managed the team during a successful first season. They also had veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Mayfield is not Eli; will that help Cleveland?

The old-school Giants have long had the old-school Eli Manning behind center. Will the brash, 23-year-old Mayfield have an easier time relating to Beckham?

"It's Mayfield's team," the former GM said. "He might need to keep Beckham in mind, but he is enough of this generation to communicate with him. I don't know if Eli ever was."

What are the Giants thinking?

A different exec called the Beckham trade and the Giants' recent behavior "a huge red flag" as to what's going on inside the organization.

"You know what I wonder?" this exec asked. "I wonder what is the Giants' plan? Because any time teams shift their plan the way the Giants have done in one year, with the same head coach and GM, it is problematic."

The Giants signed Beckham to a five-year, $95 million extension last August, interrupting months of speculation that conflict between the player and organization could lead to a divorce.

"It makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?" GM Dave Gettleman told reporters at the time of Beckham's re-signing, noting that one of his predecessors, Ernie Accorsi, had warned him years earlier not to give up on talent.

Now, barely six months later, the Giants have given up on Beckham.

"They will spin it as they got a one, a three and a first-round pick safety [Peppers]," a contract negotiator said, "but if they are going to be in the long game, the time to do that was last year. They would be in such a better position right now."

Old world meets new world

An executive 20-25 years younger than the 68-year-old Gettleman said he thought the flamboyant, sometimes mercurial Beckham simply wasn't a good fit for one of the NFL's most conservative organizations. This exec pointed to the December 2017 hiring of Gettleman by the Mara family as a point when ownership missed an opportunity to embrace the future, instead turning to a familiar, comfortable friend for leadership.

"They needed someone who would come in, tell them the way the world is now and make hard decisions," this exec said. "The game has changed, players have changed and older franchises struggle with that. Players are their own brand these days and if you can't accept that, then you might struggle. That is why the Patriots are such a different model. Look at the Bears. It took [Matt] Nagy to come in and shake it up."

The Giants, like the Steelers, have worn the "model franchise" label for their consistent methods of operation. One exec thought old-world ways complicated efforts to handle higher-maintenance new-world players. The Steelers are going through a much tougher divorce with Brown.

"I'm not saying Odell pulled what Antonio pulled, but I do think he knew if he could be difficult long enough, even after he got paid last year, that ultimately the Maras were too conservative to let him run their franchise," this exec said. "The difference is now, they have a great kid in Saquon Barkley who they can make the face of their franchise, and they are going to be much more comfortable with that."

Of course, Barkley was already on the team when the Giants re-signed Beckham.

"The Giants haven't made the hard decisions, including not trading Eli [Manning] when they had chances," the younger exec said. "You convince yourself that you have to get rid of Odell. It is only because you let it get to that point."

Common themes in uncommon trades

Some execs placed the Brown and Beckham trades in one bucket, separate from the ones involving Mack last year or, say, Kansas City Chiefs pass-rusher Dee Ford this week.

"Odell and Antonio are excellent, blue-level players," a personnel director said, "but both of those guys were headaches for their teams. Mack was not a headache. Ford was not a headache. Those guys just wanted to get paid. Odell and Antonio have already been paid."

Another exec called the Mack situation an Oakland Raidersanomaly, a product of a highly empowered new coach and an owner short on cash.

"Every other franchise would have dared Mack to hold out, show up and play," this exec said. "Mack was not causing trouble. He was a holdout. So what? Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham were different. They knew the Rooneys and the Maras were not going to tolerate their s---."

As a result, this exec said, both players followed a predictable blueprint.

"That would never work with a Jeffrey Lurie or some of these other owners," the exec said, mentioning Lurie of the Philadelphia Eagles. "Most people would say, 'You are a good player, you are staying, we will figure it out.'"

The former GM placed Brown's situation in its own category.

"It's almost like John Elway in '83 because he wasn't holding out to get paid," the former GM said. "Antonio Brown wanted out of Pittsburgh. Now they are dictating where they can go, and the money. Beckham, I'm not sure how much he had to do with this. My question is, who is the next elite player to do this? What if it is a quarterback?"

Other execs said they couldn't envision a Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgersimplementing such tactics.

"If you have enough talent, sure, the organization must decide whether it's worth it," one of the execs said, "but if you had asked anyone in the league which players would talk their way out of their teams, Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown would have been at the top of the list."