The Cleveland Browns have grown accustomed to trade rumors swirling around their players.
A few years ago, those rumors generally surfaced around the league’s trade deadline in October and always involved the Browns sending left tackle Joe Thomas somewhere for multiple first-round draft picks.
These days, the rumors are centered on wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and they rarely are limited to just a single month out of the year.
If it is not speculation that Beckham wants to go to Tampa Bay to play with quarterback Tom Brady, it is “reports” that the Browns are on the brink of trading him to the Minnesota Vikings or New England Patriots, among others.
While no one knows for sure just how general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski feel about the subject, the reality is that Beckham and the Browns appear to be destined to give it another go in 2021 for three interconnected reasons.
The Salary Cap Situation
A large portion of Beckham’s salary for the upcoming season - a shade more than $12.7 million - is already guaranteed because he suffered a torn ACL in the opening moments of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals last October.
The remainder of his contract becomes fully guaranteed on March 20, so when you add up his base salary of $14.5 million, a $1 million roster bonus and a $250,000 workout bonus, the total comes to $15.75 million for the upcoming season.
That is not an unreasonable figure if a team believes that Beckham is still a No. 1 wide receiver. But if the Browns were interested in moving on, it is hard to see another team being willing to work out a deal while not knowing how Beckham will respond from his latest injury.
By the time that Beckham will be healthy enough to play, which would likely be August at the earliest given that ACL injuries generally carry a rehab period of nine to 12 months, and with the NFL salary cap taking a hit due to COVID-19, the number of teams with the salary cap space to absorb his contract will be extremely limited.
When the Browns traded for Beckham prior to the 2019 season, Browns fans went into ecstasy overdrive about the team acquiring a wide receiver who had 4,122 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns in his first three seasons.
Unfortunately, they have witnessed a wide receiver whose production has dropped off the past four seasons with just 2,708 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
There are several factors involved as to why Beckham’s production has fallen off, with injuries being one of the bigger ones.
In addition to the torn ACL, Beckham played the entire 2019 season with a sports hernia that required surgery, a quadriceps injury in 2018, and suffered a fractured ankle in 2017. Add those all up, and over the past four seasons, Beckham has only played in 37 out of a possible 64 games.
Those injuries have not only cost Beckham numerous games, but likely have resulted in him not being the same player when he has been on the field. No matter how hard he works at his rehab, Beckham has suffered some major injuries that, combined with the physical nature of football, have to have had an impact on his body.
It is not a knock on Beckham, but rather the reality that a body can only take so much punishment before it starts to impact an athlete’s game.
Given his recent injury history, it would likely be difficult for Berry to work out a deal that would bring the Browns a worthwhile return for Beckham.
The numbers are as stark as they can be and reveal that quarterback Baker Mayfield is better when he runs the offense without Beckham.
Starting at Week 1 of 2019 and continuing through the game against Cincinnati in 2020 where Beckham was injured, ESPN found that:
Mayfield and OBJ generated the worst completion success rate (55.6%) of any QB-receiver duo in the league (with at least 100 attempts), according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Mayfield’s raw QBR targeting Beckham this past season was 73.6. To Jarvis Landry, it was 93.5. Mayfield’s completion percentage, meanwhile, targeting Beckham in 2020 was 53.8%. To Beckham’s replacement in the starting lineup, Rashard Higgins, it was 69.8%.
With Beckham this season, Mayfield ranked 14th in QBR. But after Beckham’s injury, through Week 15, only Patrick Mahomes (82.9) and Aaron Rodgers (81.8) posted higher QBRs than Mayfield’s 81.0 rating.
There are extenuating circumstances, or excuses depending on where you fall in this particular debate, surrounding those numbers.
The 2019 season was a mess thanks to head coach Freddie Kitchens’ mismanagement of the offense and Beckham’s injury. This past season it was a lack of “time on task” due to no preseason games and a reduced training camp that impacted the chemistry between Mayfield and Beckham.
It has also been presented as a given, at least by some, that Mayfield’s success without Beckham - 20 touchdown passes and two interceptions, compared to 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with Beckham - are nothing more than a natural progression as Mayfield became more comfortable in Stefanski’s offense.
That is where the hope factor comes into play. The Browns have to hope that there will be more games like the Week 4 contest last season against the Dallas Cowboys, where Beckham had three touchdowns, and fewer games like the Week 1 meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, where Beckham was targeted 10 times but finished the game with just three receptions for 22 yards.
The idea of Beckham working seamlessly and effectively in the Browns offense is still exciting. Whether or not that is realistic given Beckham’s recent run of injuries that have pushed him further away from the 2016 version, is still very much to be determined.
But given the combination of the salary cap, his ACL injury, and the allure of giving it one more shot in 2021, it appears highly likely that Beckham will remain on the Browns for at least one more season.