I, a hysterical consumer of the NFL who once altered plans to be able to catch a Nick Mullens start, have been trying to stay emotionally divested from the “Odell Beckham Jr. Sweepstakes” because it feels like it may not ultimately matter (and it feels like not that much of a sweepstakes, if we’re being honest). Like Machine Gun Kelly’s outfit at the American Music Awards, it is something others seem to enjoy discussing but will not significantly alter the day-to-day machinations of my life.
Beckham just turned 30, after all. He hasn’t had a productive, high-volume season since 2019 (74 catches, 1,035 yards, four TDs with the Browns). He tore his ACL in the Super Bowl, and tore it in October ’20. This doesn’t mean he’s not a wonderful person (I think he is, anyway). This doesn’t mean he’s not working hard (I have spoken to the people charged with helping him rehabilitate these injuries, and Beckham’s commitment to a return is staggering). This simply means that all great receivers have a point where they are more of a useful rhythm player than a lead instrumentalist, such as Julio Jones in Tampa Bay. And we are two cycles of hysteria removed from really, truly spending much emotional currency on Jones.
But, there is an interesting legacy piece to all of this that is alluring, even for those of us who claim to know better and don’t feel like getting sucked into a fruitless bit of hype. Beckham is reportedly going to choose between the Giants and the Cowboys, and will start visiting both clubs after Thanksgiving. The Giants and Cowboys meet on Thanksgiving in a game that will go a long way toward determining both the NFC playoff picture and the NFC East standings, which are hypercompetitive. He is, in other words, deciding between Door No. 1: playing for an offensive juggernaut with a top-five quarterback (Dak Prescott) and a legitimate, in-prime No. 1 receiver (CeeDee Lamb) who will hand Beckham generous amounts of single coverage, or Door No. 2: his former team, which is painfully threadbare at the receiver position—especially after Monday’s news that rookie standout Wan’Dale Robinson tore his ACL—but still shockingly contending for a top seed in the conference. Dallas, without question, is the most iconic rival of the Giants. One team needs him to function. Another team would like to have him to make a good situation even better.
While Beckham may have his own reasons for making a decision, it is a choice that could ultimately cement how we think of him as a football player. LeBron James showed us that a reputation is fluid as long as you play long enough. We cast him as a villain when he left the Cavaliers for the Heat (even though hanging out with your new, cool friends in South Beach is infinitely more appealing than slogging it out with your old buddies back home) but couldn’t care less now what he does on the court. He is a rhythm player, mostly, and he carefully and tidily shaped his narrative arc like a ball of kinetic sand.
Beckham is not James, but he occupies real estate in our sports celebrity cul-de-sac. He is also likely formulating the final chapters of an incredible career. If he chooses the Cowboys, it’s unlikely he’ll get another chance to return to the Giants and play superhero. If he chooses the Giants, it’s unlikely—with the amount of attention and physical abuse he’ll receive from opposing defenses in East Rutherford—he’ll have the production to warrant another “sweepstakes” with contenders bidding.
For some of us, the decision is easy. Return to the place where it all started. There is an undeniable attraction to donning a cape and rescuing a fledgling city. And, there is little doubt New York would love Beckham again, as feverishly as it did when he was playing there almost a decade ago. I wrote about this a few years back. Beckham was an icon who changed the way adults dressed, kids wore their hair and teammates came into the facility every day. His micro and macro impacts were noticeable in every strand of sporting life.
For the rest of us, the decision is equally obvious. The Giants eventually grew tired of him, shipped him to Cleveland, the home of Football Death, where the sun would never again shine on his bright personality. They posited him as the problem, whether it was true or not.
As for the Cowboys, they have better passers and pass catchers. They have a more realistic chance of playing meaningful football in late January, especially with Beckham slowly working his way from curiosity to game plan focal point like he did with the Rams last season (had he not been injured in the Super Bowl, there is a good chance he would have won the game’s MVP award based on how much Sean McVay was resting the game plan on his shoulders).
Watch the Cowboys on Thanksgiving: Full schedule here.
Regardless of which team he chooses, the choice in itself is what draws us back in. It’s what affixes us to our phones for updates. It’s what forces us to care. Ultimately, we may never think of him again from an on-field perspective the way we used to, which is fine. He gave us enough. So much more than enough. But this is about more than scheme fit. It’s about a person’s desires, how he sees himself, how we see him. It’s about revenge and love and where you came from and where you are going. That’s worth investing some time in.
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