BEREA — When Odell Beckham Jr.’s father recently shared a video on Instagram disparaging quarterback Baker Mayfield, it appeared to be the death knell for the wide receiver’s Browns tenure.
The public display of frustration facilitated by Odell Beckham Sr.’s social-media activity gave the world a much better feel for how badly OBJ wanted to leave Cleveland, but his desire to flee was not new.
The Browns announced Friday morning they will release Beckham, and General Manager Andrew Berry explained the decision is a result of the three-time Pro Bowl selection being disgruntled over time until there was eventually no turning back.
“To be honest, this really isn’t about the video,” Berry said Friday afternoon at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. “It is about really a series of discussions, really certainly over the last week, but even spanning back longer than that. And at times, I do think that there is … a level of frustration that exists that just really makes it difficult to have a productive reconciliation.”
The release of Beckham will become official Monday, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal.
Beckham, who turned 29 on Friday, had made multiple trade requests this past offseason, a league source confirmed. OBJ’s frustration with his lack of involvement in the offense and lack of chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield goes back to previous years. It all reached a boiling point when he caught one pass on just one target for 6 yards in Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the aftermath, he made it known again he wanted out.
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On Tuesday morning, Beckham’s dad shared the video highlighting plays on which Mayfield missed opportunities to connect with a wide-open OBJ from Weeks 3-6 this season. Beckham Sr. also repeatedly wrote “#bigfacts” in agreement with people who ripped Mayfield in the comments section of the post.
Shortly before noon Tuesday, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James showed support for Beckham by tweeting, “OBJ will show again why he’s special. WR1 #FreeOBJ.”
The social-media blitz came in the hours preceding the NFL trade deadline, but the deadline passed at 4 p.m. Tuesday without the Browns moving Beckham. The organization couldn’t find a viable trade market for Beckham largely because he would have been owed $8 million guaranteed of the $15.75 million he had been scheduled to make this year, and another franchise didn’t want to be on the hook for that much money.
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Berry negotiated with Beckham’s representatives on a restructured deal to alter the amount the Browns will owe him upon his departure. The talks were underway when the Browns (4-4) excused OBJ from practices Wednesday and Thursday and announced their breakup Friday morning before officially ruling him out in the afternoon for Sunday’s AFC North road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3).
An agreement on a reworked deal was reached Friday night to remove the final two seasons on Beckham’s contract, which had been slated to run through the 2023 season, a league source confirmed. Beckham will be released Monday. If a team claims him off waivers Tuesday, it would inherit $7.25 million. If he passes through waivers unclaimed, he will become a free agent.
Yes, there is a possibility he could haunt the Browns later this season with his new team.
“Wherever Odell is, we’re going to face talented guys every week,” Berry said. “The reality is once all that is finalized, we wish him success, and we’re going to focus on our next opponent.”
Although coach Kevin Stefanski and Mayfield said they hadn’t talked to Beckham amid the controversy this week, Berry did speak with OBJ. Berry kept the details of the conversation private but said “it was cordial and it was professional.”
Berry said “everybody’s put a ton of time and energy into” repairing the relationship, though he realized “in the past couple of days” the partnership had become untenable.
“I don’t think anyone envisioned when the organization traded for Odell three years ago that this would really be the resolution,” Berry said. “It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, there are some situations in the NFL where things just don’t quite work out.
“Those decisions are incredibly difficult, but at the end of the day it’s decision that I felt was appropriate for our team.”
After former Browns GM John Dorsey acquired Beckham in a trade with the New York Giants in March 2019, OBJ started 28 of his 29 games with Cleveland and had 114 catches on 210 targets for 1,586 yards and seven touchdowns to go along with eight carries for 96 yards and a touchdown.
It isn’t anywhere close to the elite production Beckham or the Browns envisioned. He had more than 1,300 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of his first three NFL seasons, but his production dipped as injuries interfered toward the end of his Giants days.
In 2019, Beckham played his only full season with the Browns, who employed Freddie Kitchens as their head coach at the time. Under Stefanski, Beckham played seven games last season, when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 25, 2020, in Cincinnati, and six this season, when he sat out the first two games coming off the knee injury. In 2021, he has 17 catches on 34 targets for 232 yards and two carries for 14 yards without scoring a touchdown.
Beckham made it known he wanted the ball more, but Berry pushed back on the argument the Browns didn’t make a concerted effort to involve OBJ more in the offense.
“The passing game in this system, it’s designed to get the mismatch, and I think we have a number of skilled pass catchers, and from week to week to week that could be a different player [who is targeted the most],” Berry said. “I think the other element is I do think our coaching staff was very focused on getting Odell involved.
“The first eight weeks of the season, he was our most-targeted pass catcher, and he did it in two fewer games. Now that being said, being critical of ourselves, I think Kevin mentioned earlier in the week that, hey, there were moments where he thought he could have done a better job of exploiting Odell’s talents. At the end of the day, he was a big part of it. It may not have been as smooth as we all would have liked at certain points, but I think the notion that he was ignored or anything along those lines certainly wasn’t the case.”
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Regardless, many of Beckham’s teammates are not happy about him leaving. Safety John Johnson III said Thursday the majority of the locker room “flat out” wants OBJ back. Defensive end Myles Garrett criticized the front office Friday for failing to adequately inform the players about the situation.
Berry said he talked to some players about the split with Beckham, but he doesn’t consider it fair to OBJ’s camp to share all of the behind-the-scenes information with his teammates.
Berry also understands the move isn’t popular with many players.
“Any decision like this, the reality of it is you’re not necessarily going to get consensus anywhere, and I think people realize that and acknowledge that,” Berry said. “But at the end of the day, some things don’t work out, and my job is to make sure that I make the decisions that I think are in the best interest of the team.”
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at [email protected].
Browns at Bengals
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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns GM Andrew Berry says releasing OBJ about frustration over time