Giants fans will possibly have to stomach OBJ hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but it was still the right move for both parties moving forward.
Dave Gettleman’s tenure as the New York Giants’ general manager produced little, if any, moves that will impact the team in a positive way moving forward. Trading Odell Beckham Jr. remains one of the few exceptions.
Such a statement could sound bizarre as Beckham prepares to partake in Super Bowl LVI as a member of the hosting Los Angeles Rams on Sunday evening (6:30 p.m. ET, NBC). The preceding postseason has offered redemption for Beckham after a highly publicized divorce from the Cleveland Browns: the formerly embattled receiver is the second-leading receiver for the Rams on their path to the Super Bowl (no dishonor when the leader is Cooper Kupp) and earned some of most important catches the NFC title game had to offer.
The Browns have borne the brunt of the Beckham jokes, if only because his departure from the Cuyahoga River is more recent and there’s a polarizing face to attach to the proceedings in Baker Mayfield. But the Giants and their fans, whose recent seasons have pushed them toward an agonizing, Cleveland-esque new normal, are likely wondering what might’ve been as Beckham suits up in a different shade of blue for the Big Game. Their incoming coaching hires have undoubtedly inspired confidence, but they won’t be able to do anything during Sunday’s trophy presentation, which will see either Beckham or fellow fallen first-rounder Eli Apple (now a Cincinnati Bengal) hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But, in the interest of both parties, shipping Beckham off remains one of the few things the franchise has done right over the past half-decade.
What exactly would Beckham have changed?
One question anyone even remotely associated with Giants football over the past five years…other than “Where are we picking this year?”…is “What if?”. In the eyes of many, it’s the lowest form of football conversation, one where the interrogators cry over spilled Gatorade with no way of getting it back in its cup.
But, for Giants fans, the hypothetical is perhaps one of the few sources of hope they had left. The hirings of accomplished football minds like Brian Daboll, Joe Schoen, Mike Kakfa, and Don “Wink” Martindale are visible signs that there is a plan to make things right, but they’re still seven months away from the ultimate barometers of gridiron success. Hypotheticals (from both the past and future) will thus continue to dominate metropolitan football conversations until Week 1 of the 2022 season (presumably at 1:00 p.m. ET).
Such discussions often allow fans to stretch the truth to the absolute city limits of their imaginations. Just one year ago, for example, a small (but vocal) sect of Giants fans was convinced that Doug Pederson removing Jalen Hurts from 2020-2021’s final regular season game against the Washington Football Team was the one thing standing between their 6-10 team and a Super Bowl run.
But what about both the Giants and knowing what we know about Beckham has convinced fans that his prescience would’ve changed anything?
The Giants, as they were, were far from a mere “Beckham away” from contention. Nothing would’ve changed had he been retained. Since their last Lombardi Trophy host in 2012, the high points of Giants football have consisted of Beckham highlights tainted by the memory of the final score: Big Blue fans often neglect to mention his famous one-handed Sunday night grab was earned in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Just look at the one season where Beckham did stick around: his performance was attractive enough (1,052 yards and six scores over a dozen games) but the Giants had issues far beyond No. 13. This was the team, after all, that embarked on a disastrous two-year journey under Pat Shurmur (and later Joe Judge) and committed over $3 million to 17 yards of Jonathan Stewart. Simply put, the 2018 season proved that the Giants could go 5-11 with Beckham and could go 5-11 (or worse) without him.
Alas, style points don’t count in the NFL (though a trick catch competition has emerged as an attractive alternative to the Pro Bowl), so it’s safe to say that the rational side of the Giants’ fandom wouldn’t have been satisfied with dominating the SportsCenter Top 10 rather than the NFL’s top 14.
Beckham’s revival doesn’t erase his New York shortcomings
No one can deny that his California dreams allowed Beckham to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career. Even as it prepares to reach a victorious summit on Sunday, it’s worth exploring exactly why Beckham needed redemption in the first place.
In the grand scheme of things, animated antics from NFL personalities can be excused on one eternal condition: that the player in question shows up and does his job on Sunday. Rob Gronkowski has done so for years. On a championship note, Terrell Owens came back from injury to post one of the gutsiest Super Bowl performances of all time in the game’s 39th edition (albeit in a losing effort). Johnny Manziel couldn’t counter his off-field proceedings (which included legal issues) with Sunday results and is thus remembered as one of the most notorious busts in league history.
Even when things were supposedly “ideal” in New York, namely the 2016 season where it looked like the Giants had something of an optimistic future, Beckham wasn’t wholly satisfied. Some things were, as they tend to be in the NFL, overblown: the infamous “boat photo”, for example, served as a scapegoat to the Giants’ 2016-17 playoff loss in Green Bay, made to excuse an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance.
But it’s not fair to the Giants’ organization to act like Beckham’s New York exit was entirely on the team. While ridiculously covered, Beckham’s famous encounter with a kicking net he “attacked” during the 2016 campaign dominated the headlines and only ended when he capped it off with more ridiculousness (“proposing” to the net after scoring a crucial touchdown in a win over Baltimore). Beckham’s often firey displays on the sidelines also attracted the eyes of cameras on the sidelines (the same cameras whose viewers classified Tom Brady tirades as “motivational” but that’s another conversation entirely) also generated controversy, as did Beckham’s ability to appear on both Page Six of the New York Post and its sports section.
The jury’s still out on current franchise thrower Daniel Jones. But was the unpredictability of Beckham, unarmed with the results to justify his continued services, really something Eli Manning’s successor should’ve been saddled with?
The Beckham deal was necessary for both sides to move forward
The Giants and Beckham, both beleaguered at the time of the fateful trade in March 2019, were afforded an interesting rare opportunity upon his departure. It was a life preserver from the NFL’s unforgiving waters, an afforded opportunity for each side to get back on track. True to their 2020s form, the Giants even botched their end of the deal: Gettleman’s famous declaration of “we didn’t sign Odell just to trade him” became a chat of the damned as the New York losses continued to pile up.
The only difference is that Beckham has taken advantage of his press of the metaphorical reset button. The Giants have not.
Both the Giants and Beckham needed a fresh start, a change in fortunes. The Giants, after nearly three years, are starting to inch their way back toward respectability, though that will come down to their own abilities come September. Their recent hires offer the first legitimate hope the franchise has had since Mario Manningham made his famous catch from Eli Manning’s perfectly aimed arm during the 46th Super Bowl.
Many of the Giants’ modern moves have been made in the name of erasing any lasting trace of the Gettleman era. Beckham’s departure, despite the flaws associated, is a rare one that has the potential to leave a lasting legacy toward the team’s potential redmeption.
As Giants prepare their Super Bowl watch parties, undoubtedly sullied by the team’s recent fortunes, should well remember moving forward: the temporary pain of Beckham’s Lombardi Trophy lift could well prove to produce lasting joy later.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags