1. Beckham being Beckham. I’m gonna say something here that might not be very popular: Giants owner John Mara and GM Jerry Reese need to think long and hard before making the decision to break the bank on Odell Beckham Jr.. He’s a great player. No debate there. But this is more complicated, and the juxtaposition of how coach Ben McAdoo handled flags assessed to Eli Manning and Odell Beckham over the past two weeks provides the perfection explanation.
Two Mondays ago, Manning incurred a critical delay of game penalty in New York’s loss to Detroit, turning a fourth-and-2 into a fourth-and-7, and a gonna-go-for-it call into a field goal attempt. Afterwards, McAdoo called it “sloppy quarterback play.” In doing so, he spoke not necessarily to Manning but through him, in sending the message to Giants players that no one is above being called out. And that was great and all, until McAdoo cut Beckham the break he wouldn’t cut Manning six days later, after Beckham drew a 15-yard penalty Sunday for his fire-hydrant routine. McAdoo publicly wished people would focus on his star’s play rather than his antics. Beckham then made it worse by responding with this: “When I get in the end zone, I’m going to do what I’m going to do.”
On Tuesday, I had a conversation with a scout who was assigned to LSU in 2014 when Beckham was coming out, and I asked if he was surprised to see this sort of defiance. His answer was interesting. “He wasn’t like this,” the scout said. “He was a typical receiver—he liked attention and he wanted the ball. He dressed flashy, liked to be at the club, liked having people around him. But when it came to football, he wasn’t like this. This has developed. It’s interesting, he had Jarvis Landry with him (at LSU), and Jarvis was the ultimate Alpha dog. Odell was the uber-talented athlete, Jarvis was the dog. And I think having that guy in the receiver room, in the same class as him, it kept him hungry and knowing when to draw that line, because he knew if he didn’t, he might not be the best receiver on his own team.”
And so I asked the scout what he’d do if he were the Giants, and his response was that unless there was real growth, he’d let Beckham walk. The reason? “His message there is basically, ‘I’m the best player on your team, and if you don’t let me act like this, watch out,’” he said. So can Beckham grow up? Absolutely, but this isn’t an isolated incident. Beckham was flippant after the boat controversy in January, and defiant (he actually retweeted people saying he didn’t need to listen to coaches) in missing the team’s offseason program in the spring. Pay him and, as a team, you’re implicitly rubber-stamping the behavior. And it becomes part of who you are as a team.
2. Jets on the upswing. Who thought we’d be talking about the Jets in more glowing terms than the Giants before the end of September? Sure, there may be a little recency bias going here, since the Jets just whacked the Dolphins. But if you look closely, you’ll see their offseason moves are actually sort of working out.
Start with initial bloodletting, and look at those jettisoned. Brandon Marshall has 10 catches for 93 yards in three games with the Giants. Eric Decker has 10 catches for 91 yards with the Titans. David Harris has played seven total snaps for the Patriots. Ryan Fitzpatrick is backing up Jameis Winston in Tampa. Ryan Clady retired. And Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis are without jobs. So two of those six guys are actually on the field for their new teams, and both are on the wrong side of 30 and not producing close to the level they once did. And yes, Sheldon Richardson’s been good in Seattle, but the Jets got a second-round pick and a receiver, in Jermaine Kearse, who’s been more productive than Marshall or Decker have been back for him.
Meanwhile, second-round pick Marcus Maye played every snap at safety against Miami, and next to him was sixth overall pick Jamal Adams, who had a sack, two tackles for losses, a pass defensed, and was all over the field in serving as the emotional hub for the defense. Second-year right tackle Brandon Shell has held up well against Khalil Mack and Cam Wake the past two weeks, and Shell’s classmate Leonard Williams has lived up to an already lofty rep. And young wideouts Robbie Anderson and ArDarius Stewart are taking some of those snaps vacated by Decker and Marshall, and made big plays against Miami.
Now the Jets are still a ways off from truly competing, and their record still is going to be really bad. But with an expected $80 million to spend in free agency next year, a likely high pick to get a quarterback, plus extra 2018 draft picks and a decent start on young talent, it’s not that hard to envision a way out of the hole they (intentionally) dug for themselves this season.
3. How Donald Trump built a bridge between the players and 345 Park that the league office couldn’t.We wrote in May about the concerted effort on the part of the NFL to rebuild the relationship between commissioner Roger Goodell and the players he governs. You know the background. Since the 2011 lockout, they’ve been dogs and cats. Gone are the days of Goodell helping to rehab the off-field lives of guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Vick and Pacman Jones. It its place is the distrust that brewed during Bountygate and Deflategate, and the string of domestic violence cases. And so several owners acknowledged to me, back in the spring, that this effort was underway.
“The commissioner has made an effort to do it,” Giants owner John Mara said. “Going around and meeting with them on the celebration rule, I think, is just one example. That’s important. We try to engage with them on the competition committee with the rules changes every year. We get good feedback and put a lot of that into effect. So I think that’s always important to do that, and I know Roger has made that a priority, and hopefully that’ll pay off for both sides in the end.” Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt added this: ““The benefit is making sure that the players feel like they have input. They’re as important to the success of the NFL as any of the teams are. And I think helping them feel like partners is important.”
Hunt and Mara and the rest of the owners knew it’d take time. The fight over Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was another example of how far they had to go, as was the recent rhetoric over a potential 2021 work stoppage. And the contract extension negotiations for Goodell and DeMaurice Smith also were signs of the sides spoiling for a fight. So who’d have thought that, of all people, it’d be President Donald Trump that united the league office, the team and the players.
Up until now, the Colin Kaepernick-inspired protests had been about racial equality to some, and the flag/anthem/military to others. For one Sunday, it was about a bunch of guys being backed into a corner, and sticking up for each other. I get that there are bigger issues at hand here, but there’s no need to pull a hamstring stretching to find anything negative in this for the league and the union. It simply was an act that showed a relatively unified front.
4. Worth watching Big Ben?The Steelers’ stunning loss in Chicago killed plenty of goodwill built over the first two weeks, and led to age-related questions about Ben Roethlisberger for what I believe is the first time. He’s 35 now, and ruminated about retiring after last season, so that’s bound to happen. And to his credit, he shouldered the blame this week for what happened in Chicago.
“I didn't play well enough to win. We lost the game because of me, because I didn't play well enough,” he said to local reporters. “It's not on anyone else. That's how I felt, that's what you've got to do is you've got to own it. And I'll own it. If I play better in that game, I feel we win the game. If I play better in the first two weeks, then we're going to score more points and have a productive offense and we don't have to answer questions about why our offense isn't where it is.”
Where do the Steelers stand on this? As I understand it, Roethlisberger graded out fine in the team’s wins over the Browns and Vikings. In the loss to the Bears, he didn’t, and there were a number of slip-ups that were tough to swallow. One came on Akiem Hicks’ strip-sack—pressure came off the front side, and both receivers ran hot routes to give Roethlisberger two shots at an easy completion to move Pittsburgh into scoring range. Instead, Roethlisberger held the ball, which led to a fumble. That, of course, is correctable, but also not what you’d expect from a quarterback in his 14th season. We’ll see if he can clean that stuff up in Baltimore on Sunday.