Beckham Bends His Narrative And A Star Is Reborn
Wide receivers are often characterized in two ways. 1) The hard worker who focuses on route running and all the fundamentals i.e. Cooper Kupp, Marvin Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, and 2) the diva who is all flash who views fundamentals as a crutch for the untalented i.e Randy Moss, Chad Johnson. Both of these comparisons are of course lazy and untrue as Terrell Owens is both a diva and someone who put in the work, conversely, someone like DeAndre Hopkins who is both as fundamentally sound as they come and not afraid to express himself (nor should he be). The way players are viewed stems from institutional biases i.e. Tom Brady can smash a tablet on the sidelines and he’s praised for his competitiveness but that same courtesy isn’t extended to someone like Odell Beckham. If Beckham or another receiver or skill player had done that he’d be labeled as a diva having a temper tantrum. Now, this season, Beckham joining the Los Angeles Rams was seen as the Rams being desperate and inviting a cancerous element into their locker room. Now, just days before the Super Bowl, Beckham has done everything he can to reshape his narrative and prove he’s a great teammate and the star receiver everyone gave up on him being.
Beckham burst onto the scene in 2014. He won offensive rookie of the year finishing the year with 91 catches, 1305 yards, and 12 touchdowns despite making his debut on October 5th due to hamstring injuries sidelining him for most of training camp. He was electric and became a favorite amongst fans especially the younger fans who loved to imitate his signature one-handed catches. He had blonde hair, a winning smile, and because he played in New York he was instantly a star. So what happened? Well, his five years in New York netted 390 catches, 5,476 yards, and 44 touchdowns. While that’s not a bad stat line, the Giants were progressively crumbling. Eli Manning was decaying, Victor Cruz‘s career was cut short due to injuries, and the Giants insisted on employing a Super Bowl-winning tight end coach, and a man who looked like he could’ve been an extra on “Ozark” in Ben McAdoo. McAdoo followed Tom Coughlin and was supposed to reenergize the offense. That never happened. In conjunction with this, Beckham while a dynamic receiver also struggled to stay healthy.
The Giants extended him in 2018, to a five-year $95 million extension ($41 mil guaranteed), and because the Giants continued to nosedive, the media turned on him. Now, what didn’t help him was the controversy following the Giants’ lone playoff game since winning the second Super Bowl of the Manning era. Against Green Bay, he posted four catches for 28 yards and following the loss punched a hole in a wall (narrator: he wasn’t praised for his fiery competitiveness), and what made things worse were photos of Beckham, Cruz, and others celebrating on a boat in Miami following a 19-10 victory over Washington which was eventually blamed for the Giants’ bellyflop in Green Bay.
The optics (vomit) of those pictures weren’t great as everyone knows, players are immediately supposed to go into Kubrickian isolation once they make the playoffs, only emerging from their Rand Corporation cryo chambers to play football and give robotic platitudes to the media. That said, it was EASY to rip Beckham and the Giants for partying following a 38-17 playoff loss. The Giants haven’t made the playoffs since that loss so that image got burned into everyone’s minds and now Beckham began his descent from dynamic wide receiver to cancerous diva. His contract, injuries, the Giants flatlining, etc. caused the team to trade him to Cleveland (along with Olivier Vernon) in return for Jabrill Peppers, Kevin Zeitler, and a first and a third from Cleveland. The Browns were on the ascent. They hit paydirt by drafting Insurance Spokesman and part-time quarterback Baker Mayfield with their first overall pick and new coach Freddie Kitchens was going to revitalize the offense. Now the next step was getting him some weapons so the Browns could make the leap.
The 2019 season started out as a JAY-Z-style reminder that he’s a dynamic receiver and that the Giants were the problem. In week two, in his first game back at MetLife (albeit against the Jets), he notched 161 yards and a touchdown. Then, of course, it all fell apart. In a week 4 game against the Ravens, he punched Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey and the two got into it. He was fined for having Joker-themed cleats, and despite having his fifth 1,000-yard season he would have to undergo core surgery after the season to repair a sports hernia. In his 2020 season, he tore his ACL and had to watch the Browns not only make the playoffs but win a game and nearly upset the Chiefs in round two. This began the narrative that the Browns would be better off without him. This season, his father got into the mix by overtly mocking Mayfield and the Browns for not using Odell correctly. The Browns waived him on November 8th, 2021.
The were only a few teams in on bidding for the presumed cancerous Beckham. Seattle was initially rumored to be in on signing Beckham because everyone thought they were trying to revive what was at the time considered to be a dead season. The Saints pursued him but lacked a starting-caliber quarterback at the time. The Packers were the favorite to land Beckham, looking to go all-in on the eventual MVP Aaron Rodgers. But in classic Packers fashion, they lowballed him so Beckham continued his search and eventually landed in Los Angeles.
The Rams were of course mocked for replacing a perceived malcontent in DeSean Jackson with a Gabriel-level malignant tumor in Beckham. The ALL-IN Rams dreamed of Beckham being the third guy with Kupp and Robert Woods but those hopes were dashed when Woods tore his ACL in practice before the trio could even make their debut. The Rams were demolished 31-10 a couple of weeks later by the division rival Niners in a game where both Beckham and Von Miller essentially made zero impact.
The Rams November swoon was a dark time for everyone involved. They were castigated for bringing in too many stars, the whole enterprise was failing, and the Rams would have to use draft picks and adhere to cap rules LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. Funny thing is that collapse never happened and instead, Beckham like Matthew Stafford and Miller before him bought into “WE NOT ME”.
That’s right, Beckham didn’t turn out to be a locker room cancer. He never got upset that Kupp was getting the lion’s share of the catches. Instead, he embraced his role and while learning the offense scored five regular-season touchdowns, 305 yards, and 27 catches. He scored almost as many touchdowns in eight games as he did in three years with the Browns. It isn’t just about stats though. Beckham praised Kupp every chance he got and talked about how his focus was on winning.
He also remained healthy and showed that he’s still a superstar receiver. The catches he made to win the game in Baltimore, especially the go-ahead touchdown was spectacular. He routinely made the kind of clutch grabs to either gain massive yards or simply move the chains. Beckham was a monster during the wild-card game against the Cardinals where he scored his first playoff touchdown and threw a 41-yard pass to Cam Akers. His best overall game was in the NFC Title game he had 9 catches, 113 yards and while he went scoreless he was VITAL to the Rams winning the game.
Now Beckham and the Rams are one win from a championship and aside from Stafford, Beckham will experience the biggest change in his legacy. If he wins a title and does so without any incident on record, he is deserving of an extension with the Rams or a big contract on another team. More importantly, he proved he can buy into a team and be a part of an ecosystem without sucking all the oxygen out of it. He went from being the malcontent who takes ill-advised trips to Miami and punches everything from walls to Humphrey, to being a guy who states that he wants to win a ring for Woods, a man he barely knows. He couldn’ve been Mr. Burns joining the Pin Pals and instead, he was Lisa joining the Kwik-E-Mart Gougers. Beckham has undergone one of the fastest redemption arcs and if the Rams win Sunday he’ll shed the diva moniker which is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Maybe if he wins a Super Bowl he’ll be allowed to smash a Microsoft Pro in peace.