Teams do not typically wrap up the painstaking minutiae of the largest wide receiver contract in NFL history (and second-largest overall for a non-quarterback) and realize that the hard work is only beginning.
Make no mistake, the Giants will ride in the convertible with Odell Beckham Jr. this week and wave to all the admirers at the parade. They’ll soak up the praise for getting this deal done without much drama and before the start of the regular season like an overheated Labrador sitting by a hose. We will all fawn at the pragmatism, because there is nothing easier than applauding what any other team (save for maybe the Raiders) would have done in the same situation.
However, Beckham remains one of the NFL’s true freewheeling spirits—a man who likes the idea that he’s not sure what he’ll do next. The Giants remain one of the league’s stuffiest franchises—a team often comically perplexed by their transcendent superstar and how to handle him. The team has not changed, and a glimpse of Beckham at practice, or training at home, or warming up before a preseason game, or hitting the town shows that he has no plans on growing out of this enigmatic personality.
This is not to chide Beckham’s off-field decisions, or for having the courage to be himself. He is the best thing to happen to football in a decade, and it’s not even close. He is 25 years old and unimaginably rich—Beckham stayed underground during contract negotiations because he is either a wise businessman, well-represented or some combination of the two. He is good looking and stylish; belonging to that special section of society that controls all that is hip and cool. If any of us could exist for one moment in that atmosphere, we’d likely combust on the spot.
But he is different from what the Giants are accustomed to. Most of the magnanimous personalities they’ve courted over the years have, by the end of their careers, fit neatly into the mold. There is an indefinable blandness that tends to coat New York superstars of this era, almost like a thin layer of sleep-inducing Teflon.
The length of Beckham’s contract extension will almost certainly take him beyond the Eli Manning years, allowing him to supplant the milquetoast quarterback as the face of the franchise. Over the last decade, the Giants had it easy. Manning possessed the same outward passion for football and discount laundry detergent. Beckham stays at Drake’s place when he can’t find adequate lodging.
There was no fear of Manning getting involved in political discussions or swatting his helmet at a piece of kicking equipment. Even amid a settled lawsuit for memorabilia fraud, Manning came off looking more like a flustered citizen paying a parking ticket than someone accused of defrauding a collector.
The Giants were right to tether their franchise to Beckham, but they will have to understand that the future will require more unconditional support, more breath-holding when he travels to Paris for fashion week, more colorful damage control when he overheats on the football field and gives a handsy defensive back the Hurricanrana on Monday Night Football.
Too often teams make deals like this and back out when the player continues to be exactly who he was before the bank account fattened. The Giants have no excuse. They possess a sample size stretching three coaching regimes and two general managers.
And yet, on Monday, owner John Mara made mention of the receiver “personally moving in the right direction.” Unless that involves some movement on the side of the franchise, this will not be the marriage they expected.