Revisiting the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, it's clear now the Giants fleeced the Browns

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November 5, 2021, 12:12 PM

In March of 2019, the New York Giants traded Odell Beckham to the Cleveland Browns. In return, the Giants received first- and third-round picks in the 2019 NFL draft, along with safety Jabrill Peppers.

It might be hard to remember now, but the immediate reaction was fairly slanted in one direction: Giants general manager Dave Gettleman got screwed. The Browns got Beckham, the star receiver of their dreams. End of story.

Funny how much a few years can change perspectives.

Gettleman was pilloried for what he received in the deal and the trade itself. Just weeks earlier, when asked about the swirling Beckham trade speculation, Gettleman snapped back: “We didn’t sign him to trade him.” Beckham’s five-year, $90 million deal was signed less than seven months earlier.

Semantics aside, Gettleman was being dishonest. Yes, of course they didn’t sign him to trade him. In August 2018, they signed Beckham to keep him. But well before March, Beckham had done enough — or not enough, depending on your perspective — to convince the Giants they’d made a mistake with that extension.

So the context of the trade, if you were wearing Giants royal-blue-colored glasses at the time, was that the team couldn’t have gotten more in return for Beckham because of the contract. That part of the value exchanged was the idea that Cleveland was inheriting a lot of money on a deal the Browns didn’t broker.

That’s not an unreasonable perspective. Look at the Matthew Stafford and Von Miller trades that went down this year. The Rams had to pay up for Stafford, draft-pick-wise, for the Lions to take on Jared Goff’s contract. The Rams also had to give up second- and third-round picks to Denver for biting a big chunk of Miller’s 2021 salary.

But a funny thing happened along the way with the Beckham trade. Compelled to revisit that deal in light of Beckham’s unceremonious release by the Browns, and even with the financial consideration, the Giants appear to have made out like bandits.

The Cleveland Browns trading for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. ended up being a big loss. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

What the Giants got in return

The 2019 first-round pick the Giants received turned into defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. The 2019 third-rounder became pass rusher Oshane Ximines. Both players, along with Peppers, remain on the Giants’ roster. Beckham was cut early Friday morning after a contentious spell with the Browns.

None of the player the Giants received are stars. Lawrence is the best piece, an oversized run stopper who has given a little more pass-rush juice than many imagined. Ximines opened some eyes as a rookie, was a ghost in 2020 and has started to flash a bit this season.

Peppers hasn’t carved out a significant role with the Giants, but head coach Joe Judge recently spoke highly of the hybrid safety and endorsed the idea of the team bringing the impending 2022 free agent back next season.

In the three-for-one trade, the Giants received more warm, useful bodies to help them. They also rid themselves of the Beckham drama they knew all too well that the Browns hadn’t yet experienced firsthand.

Now they know.

There’s also a bit of an offset value in this trade that must be mentioned. The Giants allowed Landon Collins and Damon Harrison to depart in free agency that year, and Peppers and Lawrence were in essence their replacements. That on one hand limits their value.

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was ripped for the Odell Beckham trade at the time but has come out a few years later looking smart for it. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

However, doing so tilted the Giants’ compensatory-pick formula in their favor and helped net them an additional third-round pick, plus two seventh-rounders, in the 2020 draft. With those picks, they also got offensive tackle Matt Peart, cornerback Chris Williamson and linebacker Tae Crowder. Of the three, only Williamson didn’t stick with the Giants.

Time allows us to call this one. The Giants won this trade, even if none of the players they landed had anywhere close to the talent or potential value Beckham did at the time.

Even having to pay Beckham $20.5 million for the final 12 games of his Giants tenure feels like collateral damage at worst now.

Giants’ deal was also addition by subtraction

Even if there was justifiable criticism for Gettleman suffering sunk-cost losses and returning what looked to be about three quarters on the dollar in return for Beckham, history has proven he made the right call.

Gettleman’s run as general manager isn’t above reproach elsewhere. He has done plenty of things — or failed to do things — that have hurt his team’s chances for success. Likewise, there were plenty of missteps under former Browns GM John Dorsey. His replacement in 2020, Andrew Berry, can’t boast a perfect record. Still, since the Beckham trade went down, even for his lack of production, the Browns have a cumulative record of 22-20. They were 8-29-1 in the three years prior to 2019.

The Giants, meanwhile, are 12-28 since the start of the 2019 season. They were 19-29 in the three years prior, even making the playoffs once. It’s hard to argue they’re headed in the right direction on the whole.

And even while allowing that there’s not too much farther to fall from 12-28 — only five other franchises have had worse records over that span — the Giants unquestionably saved themselves a giant headache by offloading Beckham, even with the timing of the deal hurting their return and not resulting in more team success.

The Giants realized their mistake with Odell Beckham, even after signing him to a $90 million deal, that they had to trade him in 2019. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Start with this: Imagine if they kept him. Imagine if they’d have released Beckham, just as the Browns were forced to this week, and gotten nothing in return. That would have been unquestionably worse.

Whether the Giants knew this was bound to be Beckham’s fate with the Browns is a trivial note. It’s possible the Giants braced for Beckham having success on a rising Browns team where he was surrounded by talent. Now that point is moot, and the Giants have been spared of that burden.

What’s clear now is that the Giants realized Beckham wasn’t going to be a net positive, even with his immense talent, on their roster. Whatever value he added on the field at that time — this being prior to his 2020 ACL injury, plus his 2021 shoulder injury and the subsequent team drama he stirred up in Cleveland — just wasn’t going to make it worth their while to keep around.

So the deal serves as a potent reminder for multiple parties on the matter of NFL trades:

  1. Instant trade analysis is great, and there’s an obvious purpose for it. But there’s always more value in waiting to assess which team got the better end of the deal, based on how things shake up down the road, even while factoring luck into the deals.

  2. Sometimes a team doesn’t need to receive back, dollar for dollar, what it perceives to give up in any trade. For every touchdown he scored, every 100-yard game or every highlight-reel grab. he hauled in, Beckham’s value to the Giants was no longer going to be a net-positive one, at least in their eyes.

They felt they had to move him, even at a lesser tangible return because they properly evaluated that his intangible effect was always going to trump whatever he produced for them. So through that lens, the Giants getting what they could for Beckham was the right call.

Team success aside, the Giants were big winners here. Had you suggested that possibility a few years ago, the idea would have been laughed off with scorn.

Now it’s the inconvenient truth. And it serves as warning for whatever team that might be considering signing Beckham: They had better know what they’re getting into and protect themselves accordingly if they do go down that road.