Just when you thought rumors about the Browns trading wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. might be heating up again, they just as quickly cooled off — for now.
A report from New York sports radio station WFAN on Wednesday morning said the Browns were in talks with the Vikings about moving Beckham to Minnesota.
Then on Thursday afternoon, Yahoo! Sports reported that no such deal between the Browns and Vikings for Beckham was being discussed.
When things were going south with rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens during an underachieving 2019 season for Cleveland, it seemed like OBJ might be dealt again, as he was from the Giants to the Browns last March. There hasn’t been much buzz, however, about Beckham going back on the block after the team fired Kitchens and replaced him another offensive-minded head coach, former Vikings coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
At the same time, there have been two marquee wide receivers traded in blockbusters, with the Texans sending DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals and the Vikings shipping Stefon Diggs to the Bills. The Texans made another trade with the Rams for Brandin Cooks to replace Hopkins. That the Vikings hadn’t made a similar move to replace Diggs no doubt helped give birth to the Browns rumor.
Although Minnesota may not be in the mix at all and isn’t a good fit anyway, this should be inspiration for Cleveland officials to reconsider the possibility of trading Beckham.
The Browns, in addition to getting strong draft pick compensation for Beckham, also could save $14.25 million against the salary cap with no dead money by dealing him. Being more than $40 million under the cap now, it’s not a necessity, but consider how the Browns were aggressive in free agency with new GM Andrew Berry — see offensive tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper. Being more flexible with funds would allow them to more comfortably sign the most impactful and expensive free agent still out there to which they’ve already been attached — edge rusher Jadevon Clowney.
But what about not having the big-play receiving services of Beckham for the offense? To know how the Browns would make it work offensively without him, just look to Diggs’ last season with the Vikings with Stefanski calling the plays.
Diggs had a career high in receiving yardage by averaging 17.9 yards per catch, but he was frustrated by his targets going down from 149 to 94, and that he wasn’t treated like a true No. 1 target even with fellow top wideout Adam Thielen missing six games with a hamstring injury.
The Vikings still improved from 8-7-1 to a 10-6 NFC playoff team. Kirk Cousins had the most efficient quarterbacking season of his career. Minnesota was a very effective run-heavy team with Stefanski, as the combination of a healthy Dalvin Cook and dynamic rookie Alexander Mattison gave them the No. 8 rushing attack after finishing No. 30 in 2018.
Diggs carries the same diva perception as Beckham. The team results were simply better with Diggs operating more as a calculated deep threat facilitated by the running game.
First, that also makes it hard to believe that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wants to step into a potential similar situation with OBJ instead of Diggs, especially when they have only around $12 million in cap space and are now sitting on two first-round 2020 draft picks with which to tap into a strong wide receiver class. Second, recent history could repeat itself with Beckham finding another source of frustration in a less pass-dependent offense with Stefanski’s Browns.
The Browns also figure to be a more effective running team with Conklin and Hooper blocking for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and that’s before likely adding another stout offensive tackle with No. 10 overall in the draft. With Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, they will help Baker Mayfield with play-action passing and diverse personnel groupings, including two tight ends with Hooper and David Njoku.
The biggest reason to keep Beckham would be that after him and Jarvis Landry — without re-signing Rashard Higgins — the Browns are thin at wide receiver with Damion Ratley and Taywan Taylor, JoJo Natson and KhaDarel Hodge topping the rest of the depth chart. Landry also did run half of his routes in the slot last season, while Beckham is a primary outside receiver.
But after they get another tackle, wide receiver is already high on the Browns’ draft priority list, and a Beckham trade would net them the capacity to double up well in selecting for the position. Landry, like Thielen, is capable of transitioning to playing more on the perimeter. In addition to the 12 personnel Stefanski will have the Browns play with either Chubb or Hunt and both Hooper and Njoku, there also will be a good chunk of 21 personnel with newly acquired fullback Andy Janovich.
The Browns had a lot of flash with Beckham and Landry operating for Mayfiled last season but little efficient substance when neither Chubb nor Hunt was touching the ball out of the backfield. That duo is the real lifeblood for Cleveland’s offense going forward with Stefanski and Van Pelt.
Cleveland will gain more than it will lose without Beckham because of more spending and drafting power and a more adjustable offense. With commodities such as Hopkins, Diggs and Cooks being moved rather easily despite that strong wideout class, the team is well positioned to draw in some Beckham suitors.
Not far behind the Browns in cap space are the Eagles, Colts, Redskins, Dolphins and Jets, who all are heavily interested in upgrading at wide receiver in the draft. Philadelphia and Indianapolis have proved to be aggressive when needed in the past with their respective GMs, Howie Roseman and Chris Ballard.
The Browns trading Beckham is a good idea, but that concept made no sense when factoring in the Vikings. When looking at Cleveland and what several other teams need, however, there’s no time like the present for a bold OBJ move.
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