Browns OTAs began this week, and the big news was that new wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. showed up and participated for one day before taking off once again. This was noteworthy after Beckham had not been seen in Cleveland since his post-trade press conference.
Sorry, but unlike many Browns fans who were excited to hear Beckham was in camp, I’m not going to praise him for making a cameo appearance when he should be in Cleveland for every offseason program activity and doing what he is supposed to do – his job. I hope Browns coaches and teammates did not make a big deal out of Beckham being at the Tuesday OTA session. In fact, I hope some made him feel like he should have been present from Day 1 of the offseason program.
NFL POWER RANKINGS:
Browns make another jump after draft
Yes, these are voluntary workouts and practice sessions. But when I was a team exec, I wanted our players to attend all phases – the initial period of strength and conditioning work followed by the on-field OTAs and any voluntary or mandatory minicamps – for a reason. I’m a big believer in the value of offseason programs as a component of team-building, strength/conditioning and mastering the team’s schemes in concert with teammates.
And when a player is new to a team, as is the case for the 26-year-old Beckham, it is extra important for him to attend all team activities. I have said the same thing about Le’Veon Bell with his absence from Jets workouts.
This is not a lot to ask of a highly paid player like Beckham, especially considering the offseason program lasts only nine weeks (compared to 12 weeks a few years ago). And there is virtually no contact; full-padded practices do not begin until training camp. It’s more about half-speed drills, walkthroughs and mental reps that are critical for Beckham as he masters coach Freddie Kitchens’ offense. Coaches want their players up to speed before the beginning of training camp.
Beyond three weeks of strength and conditioning work, Beckham missed a voluntary minicamp. He should have been in camp to support Kitchens, a first-time head coach, and general manger John Dorsey, who traded first- and third-round picks and a starting safety in Jabrill Peppers to acquire the receiver. Beckham should be taking advantage of every opportunity to get in sync with his new quarterback Baker Mayfield along with the rest of his offensive teammates.
Furthermore, we are talking about a player who has played a full season only once (2016) in his career. Beckham has missed 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury, so it stands to reason that he should be working hard to improve his strength and conditioning in an effort to avoid some of the injuries that have cost him games in the past. His broken leg in 2017 was likely unavoidable, but perhaps his hamstring and quad injuries that cost him four games in 2014 and 2018, respectively, could have been avoided with the kind of targeted training the team would provide.
Beckham likes to tell us he is training on his own, but I doubt his workouts in LA are as vigorous as those the Cleveland staff would put him through. The workouts he is missing in April and early May could make a difference in his being available come December, when the Browns will need him at full strength as they seek to end a playoff drought that goes back to 2002.
But this goes deeper than conditioning and learning a new offensive scheme – it’s about Beckham proving how committed he is to a team for which he did not choose to play.
Beckham said the right things after his surprising trade from the Giants; about being excited to be in Cleveland, especially with former LSU teammate and fellow receiver Jarvis Landry.
But actions speak louder than words.
With Beckham being present for just one day of Browns OTAs thus far, the team is left wondering when he’ll return to the practice field. Will it not be until the mandatory June minicamp? He participated in only seven of 10 OTA sessions with the Giants last year, and that was as a show of good faith because he was in the midst of contract negotiations. Beckham obviously prefers to be in LA and amidst the celebrity haven.
A player such as Beckham showing up when he feels like it sends a strong message to coaches and teammates. He is saying he thinks he is special and in a different category from the rest of the team, that he is a highly paid star who will be there when he feels like it. This is not a mindset that spells commitment to the team.
Last month, Kitchens sounded like a recording of Jets coach Adam Gase’s enabling comments on Bell when he said of Beckham, “There’s no problem with Odell not being here. I’d rather him be here. He’s not here. It’s voluntary. He can decide to come or he can’t. He’ll be ready to play when we start kicking off in September – I promise you.”
This is a clear double standard, one of which Beckham is taking advantage as a star player. For a rookie receiver who was not a high draft pick, or even a veteran fighting for a roster spot, he would be quickly cut if he did not show up for every workout. But apparently Kitchens does not want to rock the boat with the mercurial Beckham by confronting him on his level of commitment.
In my GM days, I would tell our highest-paid players that with the big money comes an expectation of leadership – both vocally and by example. How can a player such as Beckham be a leader when he shows up sporadically?
MORE FROM DIAMOND:
A lot can go wrong before Browns get it right
I said it after Beckham was traded, and I’ll say it again: I’ll be surprised if OBJ becomes a long-term player for the Browns. I see him getting restless in Cleveland and inevitably questioning the offense and his number of targets as he tries to force his way to a bigger market where he can return to the celebrity game.
These early days of Beckham coming and going to Browns camp as he pleases are a signal that Kitchens and Dorsey have their work cut out in keeping Beckham focused, healthy and productive. And it’s off to a shaky start with a player who thinks he can call the shots.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on negotiation and sports business/sports management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.