Is it really a big deal that Odell Beckham Jr. skipped OTAs last week and seems unlikely to join his New York Giants teammates until mandatory mini-camp June 13-15? Lots of words have been used by columnists everywhere voicing full-throated opinions about that. Let’s use the “Five things I think I think” platform to try and put the whole thing in some perspective.
We Must Remember They Are Voluntary
Yes, there are Organized Team Activities, which I will only loosely call “practices.” I think, though, we still need to remember that this is the players’ offseason. Coach Ben McAdoo can want every player to be in attendance, every coach wants the opportunity to coach his players whenever possible. He can’t, however, demand anything at this time of the year. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, which makes these workouts voluntary, sees to that. If a player has other commitments, or simply believes he can prepare better on his own, he has that right.
Beckham hasn’t been the only Giant not in attendance. And, teams throughout the league are conducting OTAs without some of their big-name players.
Former Giant Carl Banks recently called in to a radio show to chat with host Ed Coleman about Beckham.
“If people knew the amount of big-time players that don’t show up for voluntary stuff they’d be surprised. And it’s gone on for years,” said Banks, while admitting that as a player he didn’t attend OTAs, either.
“I’m all about team and I’ll be the first to tell you I never went to OTAs. I barely did the offseason conditioning program. I had an agreement with Bill Parcells that I’d give you two weeks in the offseason and then I’ll be there for every mini-camp. It’s a different world now, but people want to get away from the building every once in a while. As long as they’re there on time and he’s a guy you can count on being in shape then that’s the least of your concerns. Once you know you’ve got a guy who going to work as hard if not harder and also a guy who’s goals, whether they’re selfish, individual or all about him, if his goals align with the success of your team you shouldn’t have a worry in the world about a guy like that.”
The Workouts Aren’t The Issue
I think Beckham skipping these workouts isn’t really the problem. If you really believe these half- to three-quarter speed practices in shorts and t-shirts are going to make him a better player then you really don’t understand what’s happening at OTAs. These workouts are great for the rookies, for returning guys fighting for roster spots, for anyone who desperately needs every rep and every drill to impress a coach. Which is why you really should wonder why Owamagbe Odighizuwa was absent last week.
Sure, Beckham could catch a few passes from Eli Manning and step through the paces of the play book. But, let’s be real. He knows the play book, even if the Giants use more of it this year than they did in 2016. Work with Manning? That would be nice, but remember how extraordinary he was as a rookie without any due to his early-season hamstring issues? How much difference will a few routes run now really make during the regular season?
So, what is the real issue?
The Real Issue Is The Perception
Nobody is clogging Internet bandwidth complaining about Olivier Vernon skipping voluntary workouts. The issue, though, is that this is Beckham. The push-pull of Beckham’s celebrity life and his NFL career, the immature incidents of his first three seasons and GM Jerry Reese’s public admonition that it’s time for Beckham to grow up make us look for signs. Signs that football, and the Giants, are important to him. Signs that Beckham isn’t just about Beckham. Signs that he took to heart the words of his team’s general manager.
The issue isn’t that he’s missing a few voluntary workouts. The issue is that if you want to make the case that he isn’t maturing, that he’s putting himself above his teammates, that he isn’t showing respect for his coach, GM, or organization he’s making that easy.
Beckham has, throughout his time with the Giants, had a habit of making headlines he didn’t have to make. He is doing it again. Whether or not any of this really matters we won’t know until later, but he is leaving us with the perception that nothing is changing.
Media, Social And Otherwise, Is Part Of The Problem
Back to Banks for a minute. He’s an old-school guy with lots of new-school sensibilities. He spends a lot of time engaging in sometimes colorful debates with fans on Twitter and he gets the power and pull of social media.
Banks says that Beckham “lives his life out loud” via the variety of social media platforms that are now available. He does, as do many professional athletes. It’s a generational thing, and while social media can be a fun way to document your life and interact with fans, it can also backfire. Like it did on Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers last season when he put a post-game speech by coach Mike Tomlin on Facebook Live.
“He’s a kid that, you know he lives his life out loud but he doesn’t live it recklessly,” Banks said of Beckham. “In this age of social media we haven’t seen this kid drunk off his feet, carrying a beer, or partying recklessly. We don’t see that.”
Banks is right, but I think Beckham could save himself grief with tighter control of his social media presence. The photo of him after a workout with Johnny Manziel, albeit an innocent one, didn’t do him any favors. The Miami trip wouldn’t have been such a big issue if the boat photo never made it to social media. Beckham sometimes allows those who want to see trouble to perceive it, whether it’s there or not.
The 24/7 nature of football coverage, perpetuated in large part by sites like this one and networks like SB Nation, is also part of the issue. Fans want, and have come to expect, daily news and analysis of their team. In season or out. Whether there is news or whether there isn’t. There is a ton of competition for eyeballs on the Internet and for readers in the print world.
Odell sells. Period. Nike knows it, which is why the company just gave him the richest shoe deal any NFL player has ever received. Newspaper columnists and Internet bloggers know it, too. Get Beckham’s name in a headline, people buy your paper or your magazine. They click on your web site.
People read about the guy. They may complain about all the stories written about him while they are doing it, but they keep doing it. You’re doing it right now. And as long as readers like you keep doing it, the media will keep feeding Beckham content to you.
What would be nice is for Beckham to make a few less unnecessary headlines. That, though, doesn’t appear to be his way. Maybe it just isn’t the millennial way.
The Real Test Is When He Does Show Up
We won’t really know if there is anything for the Giants to worry about with Beckham until practice actually becomes mandatory. Will he show up for the mandatory mini-camp next month, which he has indicated he intends to do? Will he be in shape and look committed to football? Will he blow off the media, or just face the inevitable barrage of questions, get that over with, and not give those media members itching to bash him more reason to do so?
In the end, I think the real test comes when the games begin. Will Beckham be the player the Giants need him to be, the player he continually says he strives to be? Will he help the Giants win games? Will he control his emotions? Will he pout if there are times he is a decoy and Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard or Evan Engram end up being featured?
That’s when we will really know whether or not Beckham heard what his general manager said at the end of last season, or if he is capable of being a more mature, less volatile player.
If he has a great year, helps the Giants win games, and only makes headlines for the right reasons all of this offseason stuff will be a forgotten foot note.
If he acts like a prima donna, appears more interested in selling shoes and being a celebrity than in being the all-time great wide receiver he could become, and can’t keep his emotions in check, then we have a story really worth discussing.
Until then, the rest of this stuff is just noise. And we don’t really know if any of it means anything. It will, however, continue to give us things to talk about.