In his first three seasons in the league, Beckham eclipsed 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns every year. He averaged 9.6 passes per game at an average of 14.3 yards per reception. The only player to match those numbers in each of his first three seasons in the modern era? Randy Moss.
Like Beckham, Moss was seen as a cultural distraction, a Me First guy who couldn’t exist in the ever-conservative NFL ecosystem.
The Vikings grew weary of Moss after seven seasons (he was also, coincidentally, traded for a first-round pick and a dime linebacker). It took the Giants five seasons – one missed due to injury – to cut the bait on Beckham. Could the Browns bail out midway through his second?
Moss offers a decent career parallel and a caveat. His second career stoppage was not the most successful either. Moss performed well in his freshman year after a trade to Oakland, but struggled with injury and Raiders culture throughout his time with the team.
Not for a long time he was on the move again. But after the frenzy of his initial trade, the league came out as a collective on Moss after Oakland. Too selfish. Bad attitude. Too beaten. It was considered almost finished.
And then New England. And then Tom Brady. And then Bill Belichick. 16-0. It remains the biggest and most destructive receiving streak in league history – with a hat tip for literally every streak in Jerry Rice’s and 2015 Rob Gronkowski’s career. And all for the price of a fourth round pick.
For Moss, it was about finding the right system, being healthy and rediscovering his chemistry with a quarterback. Even Hall of Fame members may need a sabbatical in what should be the best years of their careers.
Few receivers since Peak-Moss have made defensive coordinators fear as much as Beckham. At the start of his career boom, the coordinators tried all kinds of innovative and downright absurd tricks in an attempt to slow him down. None of this worked.
What ultimately slowed down Beckham was a fossilized Manning. And at some point, the puff off the field started to have a tangible impact. You can see it through the TV screen. Frustration. Disappointment. I do my job. How about making your own. There were kicks at the net, Paris, the Miami boat trip, Josh Norman, and a daily deluge of stories accompanied by the word “antics,” even for things as benign as a clothing line.
Beckham, who started it all, had committed the most heinous football crime of all: he was becoming a distraction.
Cleveland was supposed to signal a fresh start. Beckham has deliberately tried to sterilize his behavior on the pitch, at least on the sidelines, since the move to Cleveland. “It’s a tough position to be in the way I feel I’ve been misrepresented to the world,” Beckham said this week. It’s a difficult thing for many stars to try to be themselves while trying not to be the person they’re portrayed.
Away from the New York hack pack (which, while drastically diminished in terms of national impact, remains a real and tangible thing for those who play locally), with a talented young quarterback, who has the vision and ability to pushing the ball down besides being able to create off-script, Cleveland should have offered the perfect reprieve.
But that did not work. There’s still a steady rhythm of stories, although they’re less and less, uh, brutal in tone compared to her days in New York City. Worse: The on-court relationship with quarterback Baker Mayfield failed to gel.
Beckham’s production dropped. His receiving totals were an almost mirror image of his last year with the Giants – a significant drop from those special early years – as his numbers per target fell off a cliff. From 10.0 yards per target (one step first) at his best in New York City to 8.5 yards per target in his final year with the team at 7.6 last season with the Browns… and down to 6.0 this year after Thursday night’s win over Cincinnati.
Conventional wisdom is that at the start of the Mayfield-Beckham marriage, the quarterback forces him to Beckham. That Beckham demanded too much ball. That in an effort not to upset Beckham, Mayfield was forcing the ball on him, and so the natural rhythm and flow of the Browns attack was distorted. But it was not true and it remains false this season.
The Browns switched coaches during the offseason, bringing in former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski in an effort to turbo-charge the offense.
The first feedback was not great. Stefanski had hoped to transition to a movement-like structure – a wide-area running game with lots of play-action – with short, precise timing routes that would distribute the ball and make effective use of the Browns’ playmaking stable. But, so for, despite the new wrinkles, the offense has the same tough mess it was for the majority of 2019; there are few double hits, nor the time to execute them, that helped make Beckham so effective early in his career (Truth: Beckham is damn dominant in any style; he just does the trick most of the court in double strokes).
Moving Beckham can become an option, particularly if the receiver becomes unhappy. But designing a profession will not be easy. Such a move is one that fires a GM, especially one who pinned his colors to the Mayfield-Beckham pole, let’s-win-now. If Beckham thrives elsewhere, it becomes proof that Mayfield is the real problem. If he continues to struggle, whether with the Browns or for another team, he becomes a nagging and costly reminder of the assets the team gave up in the first place – this is a trade on culture. action sport.
And then there is the money. Beckham is costing $ 14 million for the salary cap this season. There are few valuable teams with the maneuverability to strike a deal at this price, let alone agree with the Browns on pay terms.
What would that compensation be even at this stage? A third round pick? One. Two? Could you come up with a first from an infallible suitor?
Some places make sense. The Patriots (* shudder *) have $ 30 million in cap room and a gaping hole in their receiving body. If they’re all-in on a one-year race at Cam Newton, adding Beckham to the mix is a tempting proposition. he fact training with Newton this last offseason.
Or there’s Philadelphia, which has just enough room to squeeze into Beckham’s silhouette. Or Miami, which has the assets and the room to strike a deal, but would Beckham be willing to move to be one of the posters for another place of rebuilding?
Or the obvious: a move desperate for relevance, desperate to cover Jets gas.
It has now been five years since the capture and yet it is still the defining moment in Beckham’s career. Where’s Jump-on-my-cape’s playoff performance? Where is “should he have the MVP buzz?” extent?
One of the biggest to do it is still in there, and somehow he’s been in Cleveland.
At this point, a trade can be in the best interests of all parties: the teams, the players and those of us who want to see the best at its best.