An exceptional talent but easily combustible, the Giants’ wideout took steps this offseason to follow the advice of his general manager and grow up. But the real test won’t come until the games begin
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If you haven’t heard by now, and there’s no way that’s possible, Odell Beckham Jr. was on the practice field for the first day of the Giants’ minicamp. And the scene was . . . exceptionally normal.
Beckham ran some routes. He caught some passes. He dropped one (no, this is not a big deal). Afterward, he ate lunch in the cafeteria with teammates. After weeks of external speculation surrounding Beckham’s reasons for skipping the Giants’ voluntary offseason program to train on his own in Los Angeles, all was calm at team headquarters. Really, it’s been that way all along.
At safety Landon Collins’ charity softball game a few weeks ago, Giants Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree, the team’s current director of player development, put it this way: “We would love to have him here, but he doesn’t need to be here. He’s doing great.” This week, at the team’s mandatory minicamp, Beckham needed to be there. So, he is.
Asked on Tuesday about his decision to spend April and May in California, Beckham said, “Really I was just taking the time to train, make sure that I get proper training, and really growing and maturing.” Physically, Beckham did speed, acceleration and movement training with his L.A.-based performance coach, Jamal Liggin. Mentally, he said he sought insight from a number of books, among them, The Four Agreements, “a practical guide to personal freedom” that is a favorite of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“There [are] just four basic principles that are in there and one of them that you really had to learn was to use your words wisely and don’t take anything personal ever,” Beckham said. “As you kind of get this guideline of this book, it starts to help you grow and really mature into who you are as a person . . . I feel as if I am a little bit wiser.”
As for what Beckham missed in the 10 OTA practices, his quarterback, Eli Manning, said, “Not much.”
Last week, an ESPN report claimed that while no one in Beckham’s camp has admitted it, his absence from OTAs was “directly related to his desire for a new deal.” But a few weeks earlier, NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones had spoken to Beckham on the record, and he told her he “for sure” would attend mandatory minicamp. Skipping OTAs and then attending minicamp would be a very strange way to push for a new contract—you don’t create any leverage by sitting out the voluntary stuff and then showing up when it’s mandatory. Beckham said as much while addressing the crowd of nearly 50 reporters in attendance for his first press conference since the playoff loss in January.
“I have never really seen the whole—what’s it called—holdout and all of that stuff work,” Beckham said. “So that was never in my mind: I’m not going to go to OTAs to get a new contract. I don’t really think that that proves a point in my opinion. So I was really just out there really taking that time for myself to reflect on life and value what is really important and like I said, to grow and mature in life. You should be growing each and every year, each and every day you should be growing, until the day that you leave this earth.”
Beckham is scheduled to make $1.8 million this year, and around $8 million in 2018 on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract that the Giants picked up this spring (as a No. 12 pick, the option will be worth the average of the No. 3 through No. 25 highest salaries at his position). So yes, the 24-year-old star receiver is underpaid—but there’s no reason for the Giants to address his contract right now. At the league meetings in May, owner John Mara said that contract talks hadn’t happened yet but would likely begin “at some point during the year.” Mara also made clear then what he repeated at a town hall for season-ticket holders last week: He wants Beckham to finish his career with the Giants. “I think we are on the same page there,” Beckham said on Tuesday. “Obviously this is one of the best organizations in the league, and I would love to be here for the rest of my life.”
The trajectory of Beckham’s career has been of intense interest to NFL observers. His meteoric rise from an injured rookie to one of the league’s most electrifying receivers was itself a fascinating storyline, but he’s also received strong criticism for his lack of discipline and focus. Last season ended with Beckham’s punching a hole in a wall at Lambeau Field after the Giants’ 38-13 playoff loss to the Packers, which prompted general manager Jerry Reese to publicly implore for him to “grow up.”
Beckham has created for himself many questions heading into his fourth professional season that can’t be answered until the games begin. The true test will come this fall, when he faces the frustrations of double-teams while opposing defenders try to get under his skin in ways that have caused him to lose his cool in the past. But his mission was clear during the first day of the Giants’ mandatory minicamp.
Shortly after that first practice, Beckham’s cleat designer—a man named Troy Cole, who goes by “Kickasso”—posted on Instagram a since-deleted picture of custom Nike cleats he said Beckham wore on the field that day. Printed on them were black-and-white logos of ESPN, and the New York Post, and TMZ, which had been crossed out with red Xs and “SHHHHH!”
The caption: Silence the critics.
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