What a difference three months make. At the middle of the season, Odell Beckham Jr. was on the road to becoming an NFL pariah. He was considered selfish, a distraction, a malcontent and a diva. Beckham was thought to be a declining player with diminishing skills. His best football days were supposedly behind him after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the 2020 season. A 2019 trade to the Browns was a failure.
The Browns couldn't give Beckham away. Nobody was willing to take on the remaining $8,055,556 of Beckham's 2021 base salary and the final two years of his contract worth $30 million in a trade. Every team passed on a chance to claim Beckham through waivers after he reworked his contract to eliminate his 2022 and 2023 contract years to help secure his release.
Once Beckham became a street free agent, Bruce Arians, head coach of the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, dismissed the notion of adding Beckham. "We've already got AB (meaning Antonio Brown), we don't need OBJ, too many letters," said Arians.
Teams weren't lining up to break the bank for Beckham. He chose the Rams over the Packers for his next destination. Beckham signed a contract with a base value of $1.25 million ($750,000 in base salary and a $500,000 signing bonus) worth up to $4.25 million through incentives for the remainder of the season.
The incentives are tied to the Rams' playoff success. Beckham earned $500,000 for a wild-card game win against the Cardinals. He made another $750,000 each for divisional playoffs and NFC Championship Game victories over the Buccaneers and 49ers. There's an additional $500,000 for making it to the Super Bowl and $500,000 more for winning. All of the incentives are also predicated on Beckham being on the game day active roster and participating in at least one offensive play for that particular contest.
Beckham was viewed as a luxury, not a necessity for the Rams. Things quickly changed with fellow wide receiver Robert Woods tearing the ACL in his left knee during a practice before the ink was barely dry on Beckham's contract. Woods had been one of the NFL's most productive pass-catchers over the previous three seasons (2018-20) with 266 receptions for 3,289 yards. He was one of nine players with at least 250 catches and 3,000 receiving yards during that span.
Beckham is having the last laugh. He is anything but washed up. As soon as Beckham became acclimated to the Rams' offense and began gaining the trust of quarterback Matthew Stafford, he started filling the void created by Woods' absence. Beckham had 27 receptions for 305 yards with five touchdowns in eight regular-season games.
Rams head coach Sean McVay has called Beckham a great teammate. It's a sentiment that's been echoed by Stafford. Concerns about whether Beckham could accept playing second-fiddle to All-Pro Cooper Kupp, who has had a season for the ages, without any issues have been unfounded. Uncharacteristically, Woods, a consummate professional, appeared to be frustrated at times early in the season with his lack of involvement in the offense as Kupp got off to a fast start.
Most important, Beckham has been instrumental in the Rams' Super Bowl run. In the three playoff games, Beckham has looked more the player the Giants made the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver with a five-year contract extension averaging $18 million per year in 2018 than he did in Cleveland. He has 19 catches, 236 receiving yards and one touchdown during the postseason. Prior to the Browns releasing him, Beckham only had 17 catches for 232 yards without any scores in six games this season.
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Although it's a small sample size, Beckham's postseason production equates to 108 catches for nearly 1,340 yards over an entire regular season. The nine receptions for 113 yards Beckham had against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game was his most productive outing since his second game with the Browns in September 2019.
The Rams are interested in keeping Beckham beyond this season. There could be plenty of competition for Beckham's services thanks to his short stint in Los Angeles in which he's risen up the ranks of wide receivers who could be available in free agency.
Obviously, Davante Adams will be the cream of the wide receiver crop if the Packers don't stick a $20.12 million franchise tag on him. Chris Godwin, who was designated as a franchise player by the Buccaneers in 2021, tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee late in the regular season. The knee injury isn't expected to materially affect Godwin's market. Allen Robinson won't be getting another franchise tag from the Bears after a disappointing and injury-plagued season where he never established chemistry with rookie quarterback Justin Fields. Mike Williams had a breakout season playing under a $15.68 million fifth-year option. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler this season, has publicly stated he wants Williams back.
Beckham seemed destined for a one-year "prove-it" deal in free agency before resurrecting his career with the Rams. It's conceivable that Beckham will be able to command a contract that exceeds the $15 million-per-year average of the two remaining contract years he had left before reworking his Browns contract.
Continuing to play with a high-caliber quarterback will likely be a primary consideration for Beckham after his experiences in Cleveland. The Chiefs could use another weapon for quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the passing game to complement wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Beckham would be an upgrade over the departed Sammy Watkins, who was signed to a three-year, $48 million deal with $30 million fully guaranteed in 2018 free agency.
Beckham wouldn't have to relocate with a move to the Chargers if Williams prices himself out of town or isn't given an $18.816 million franchise tag. The salary cap wouldn't be an impediment. The Chargers are projected to have upwards to $55 million of cap space.
Beckham has a long-held affinity for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots have seemingly found a long-term solution at quarterback with 2021 15th overall pick Mac Jones. There isn't a wide receiver on New England's roster the caliber of Beckham but cap space will be at much more of a premium than during the 2021 free agency spending spree.
Beckham staying put would give the Rams arguably the best wide receiver trio at least for the 2022 season with Kupp and Woods, provided he can return to form from his knee injury. Woods could be a potential salary cap casualty in 2023 because $9.55 million of cap space would be gained without his $15.95 million cap number on the books.
It remains to be seen whether Beckham would sacrifice money to remain in a situation where he's comfortable. Regardless of what happens with Beckham, he's changed his fortunes in a short period of time. Such a turnaround didn't seem possible when his tenure in Cleveland ended.