It wasn’t Antonio Brown standing on his porch shouting profanities at police while live-streaming the faces of his children across social media. It wasn’t Richie Incognito punching a hole in the wall of his grandmother’s home. It wasn’t even Julian Edelman allegedly jumping on someone’s Mercedes Benz after drinking with some friends.
Granted, we’re not talking about capital crimes here. If anything, what Beckham did in full view of cameras after LSU won the national title was equal parts foolish (slapping Benjamin Franklins into the hands of LSU players) and dumb (slapping the rear end of a police officer). Both moments, however, were tailor-made to take on lives of their own, whether it was dragging LSU into a conversation about NCAA rules violations or opening the door for police to issue an arrest warrant for Beckham Jr. for simple battery.
Just like that, Beckham became a story again. And not one about his offseason rehab or his fit in the offensive scheme of new head coach Kevin Stefanski. Instead the Browns were forced to release a statement that had nothing to do with a regime change that is supposed to get the organization on the right track.
“We are aware of the incident and have been in touch with Odell and his representatives on the matter,” the team said in a statement. “They are cooperating with the proper authorities to appropriately address the situation.”
Great. I’m sure that’s exactly what owner Jimmy Haslam and chief strategist Paul DePodesta were hoping to deal with on the eve of interviewing general manager candidates. Something involving Beckham that had nothing to do with where the team is going. Something that can be added to last season’s uncomfortable narrative, which already included Beckham telling other NFL teams to “come get me” and being vague about his commitment to Cleveland long term.
Of course, there will be defenders, those who say Beckham’s situation is being blown out of proportion. And they’ll trot out the “whataboutisms” involving Edelman and why his Beverly Hills stupidity wasn’t a topic of hot debate. That’s a fair debate, of course. Different people will interpret it in different ways. Edelman is white and covered largely by white media, while Beckham is black and doesn’t have that same luxury. Edelman is a member of the celebrated New England Patriots, while Beckham is trying to claw his way back to an elite level with the often hapless Browns. One player’s alleged foolishness happened out of the public eye, while the other’s was captured on video for everyone to see.
Whether Beckham’s microscope is fair is one issue. And it really has no bearing on the only thing that truly matters: The fact that Beckham is part of a franchise that is undergoing a reboot in the front office and on the coaching staff, leaving the viability of each and every player subject to review. A process that will most definitely include Beckham, whose acquisition was engineered by now-fired general manager John Dorsey. Now he has given the new head coach something to think about, along with the prospective new general manager. Not to mention DePodesta, who is not expected to promote patience for the players from the Dorsey era. Particularly the ones who aren’t all the way in for 2020 and beyond.
To put a finer point on it, if the Browns are indeed looking to eliminate the 2019 mistakes, they will need to start by eliminating — or drastically altering — parts of last season’s roster. And as it stands, we don’t know what those roster alterations will look like. We do know that Beckham is going to be a topic of conversation, given the drama that surrounded him on the way out of New York and the residue of some of last season’s awkwardness.
Now he has given the Browns something new to talk about. A sideshow that is all his own. One that quite notably didn’t include Jarvis Landry — another former LSU player who was with Beckham at the national championship game but somehow managed to not make a national spectacle of himself.
It surely won’t go unnoticed by DePodesta and Stefanski and whatever general manager inherits an always-pressing question: Whether Beckham’s contributions outweigh his sideshow — and what to do with him when they don’t.
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