The Cleveland Browns continued preparations on Thursday for their key AFC North divisional game with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Additionally, the team also dealt with day two of the ongoing situation with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was excused from practice for the second consecutive day.
General manager Andrew Berry has yet to announce an official resolution to Beckham’s status, which came to a head on Tuesday after his father - Odell Beckham Sr. - shared a video on his Instagram account highlighting all the missed opportunities when Beckham Jr. was open on a pass pattern from Weeks 3 through 6.
That, in turn, has led to an onrush of noise surrounding the team and opinions to fly about a divided locker room, and what to do with a player who was apparently untradeable but is also apparently ready to move on from the Browns.
The most reasonable take on the situation came Thursday, when NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala spent time at team headquarters talking to players about Beckham. While it is only one minute and 50 seconds long, Kinkhabwala’s report summarizes the situation perfectly:
I hung out w/ the #Browns today. One guess what I was asked about. (Also: it sometimes takes more than one voice to paint a full story.) pic.twitter.com/KVSc2zDqWh— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 4, 2021
Head coach Kevin Stefanski does not meet with the media on Thursdays, which left the assistant coaches and players to answer numerous questions about Beckham, the current mood of the team, would they welcome him back and, oh by the way, a few about the upcoming game against the Bengals.
That led to several sound bite moments about how the “majority” of the players would welcome OBJ back with “open arms.”
Of course, it can pay to look past the sound bites and digest the full depth of what the players said.
While safety John Johnson III did say the “majority of this locker room would love to have OBJ in this building. Flat out,” he also said the Browns remain united and have to move on (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“I just feel like as a competitor and as a player, you want to see your guys have success. You want to see your guys do as well as they can. When that does not happen, you obviously feel a certain type of way, but I do not think it is dividing the team in any type of way. I just feel like we are a hard-working bunch of guys. Like I said before, if there is any way that he can get back in the building, I will be tremendously happy, but you just have to move forward.”
While left guard Joel Bitonio did say he was “sure we would welcome OBJ with open arms,” he put a qualifier on that while also squashing the idea of a locker room split (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“If (OBJ) wants to come back and be a part of the team, I am sure we would welcome him with open arms. You build relationships with people on the team and you care about people who you play football with, but from a professional perspective, you have to come out there and you have to perform at your best every week. I think that is the mindset of the majority of the team is whoever is out on the field with us, we have to do our best and we have to play our best each and every week.”
Linebacker Malcolm Smith had a similar take in saying that he wants “the best situation” for OBJ, but that the team has to be pragmatic about the situation (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“For me, not to be insensitive to what is going on, but we lose players every week. Guys get hurt. Things happen. Guys get sick. You can’t spend too much time thinking about losing a guy. You want the best for them. I am sure he does not want us to spend our time focusing on what is going on with him anyway. I am sure he would rather just handle it privately and move forward. We have to do that. We have to come to the building and not worry about what is going on with somebody else. Just work as we can and practice.”
It is unfortunate that it has come to this and it would be best for everyone involved if the Browns and OBJ came to some type of resolution sooner than later.
But in a strange way, this may actually work in the Browns favor if the team can use it as a rallying point to bring everyone together, block out the noise, and focus on the important work ahead of them as they attempt to make a run at the playoffs.