In the spring of 2018, when the New York Giants were choosing between a trade of Odell Beckham Jr. or signing the star wideout to a lucrative contract extension, the Los Angeles Rams had a flight of fancy.
Coming off a wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons, general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay envisioned what the Rams offense could look like with an elite No. 1 wideout. The top of their wish list? None other than Odell Beckham Jr., who was just one season removed from his second All-Pro team but suddenly frustrated inside the Giants franchise. He wanted to go west. More specifically, he wanted to go to a Rams offense that was experiencing a renaissance of sorts under McVay, and into a city where he already owned a home in the offseason. Los Angeles? That was his kind of town, McVay was his kind of coach, and the burgeoning future of the Rams was his kind of trajectory. And for a moment, it looked like it might actually come together.
But this was still early in the Rams build. Draft picks and cap space were going to be important moving forward. Especially with the team having already dealt a boatload of picks in 2016 to move up to the No. 1 overall spot to select Jared Goff. To Snead and McVay, the Super Bowl window still felt a little further away. All of which made acquiring Beckham Jr. too costly. It would expend too many draft resources — not to mention a record-setting contract extension on the other side of the acquisition. And the reality is there were going to be other wideouts available on the market if the Rams were willing to be patient.
“Getting Odell would have been very prohibitive,” Rams general manager Les Snead told Yahoo Sports later that summer, only weeks removed from the Giants signing Beckham Jr. to a monster contract extension.
Well, some dreams come true if you wait long enough. Sometimes they even come far more cheaply than you ever imagined. And that’s what transpired Thursday for the Rams, who signed Beckham Jr. through the rest of the 2021 season — parting with nothing more than some available cap space to make it happen. Snead and McVay got their man. Now we’ll see if everyone involved can make it work.
The big question for the Rams is what version of Beckham Jr. are they actually getting? Is it the elite cornerstone they coveted in 2018? Is it the oft-injured and rarely satisfied wideout that has appeared to be a shade of himself since that 2018 season? Or is it something in between — a player who has descended from his peak but remains valuable enough to be a reliable cog in a Super Bowl machine?
This is what the next several months are going to be about for Beckham Jr. Showcasing to the outside world that he’s not the player who went sideways with Eli Manning and the Giants — but also not the injured and dissatisfied presence that led the Cleveland Browns to dump him last week. And making his case with his fourth coaching staff reboot since 2016: From Ben McAdoo and the Giants in 2016; to Freddie Kitchens and then Kevin Stefanski with the Browns; and now on to McVay with the Rams.
That’s a lot of head coaching changeover in only six years. But McVay represents something the others didn’t. To be blunt, he’s the first head coach Beckham Jr. has chosen for himself. Just like this Rams offensive system and the veteran quarterback running it, Matt Stafford. Not to mention the city of Los Angeles, which Beckham Jr. chose long before this move was made.
Those points can’t be underscored, because they put all of the onus of responsibility onto one set of shoulders. And those shoulders belong to Beckham Jr. If this situation doesn’t work, it wasn’t someone else’s doing or decision. This was Beckham Jr.’s free agency and his only task was to pick the environment that not only wanted him, but also suited him. And that’s precisely what he did.
But with it, he steps into an offense that already has two dominant and established receivers in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. The same Kupp who is far and away Stafford’s favorite target. And the same Woods who pushed for more “involvement” (translated: more targets) in this Rams offense in early October. These are not wallflowers. They are going to be two players entrenched at the No. 1 and No. 2 receiver positions. Which means Beckham Jr. is coming in as a very defined asset — that of being in a supporting role, with players who are unquestionably better than him right now.
To this point, being a supporting role player has not been something that has kept Beckham Jr. satisfied. Nor has he filled that kind of position while also needing to get his career on track for the next wave of free agency, which will come for him next March. Somehow, he’s got to show the rest of the NFL that he’s still a viable No. 1 or No. 2 wideout on a team that already has one of each. Not to mention a running back in Darrell Henderson and young wide receiver in Van Jefferson who each eat up a handful of targets each game. If Beckham is going to get his, that means someone else either needs to lose some of theirs — or this Rams offense needs to kick into a higher gear and become an even higher volume passing offense than it already is.
In the middle of all that, someone is going to have their hands full. Either McVay or Stafford or both. And most definitely Beckham Jr. himself, as he tries to display that his frustrations in Cleveland were Cleveland-type frustrations. He can’t have any of those same issues in Los Angeles, nor can the Rams afford to let that come to fruition, either.
Starting now, it all has to be fresh and new and look backward in time to what might have been three years ago. Because these are team leaders and a player who once dreamt about each other. Now that dream has come true, albeit a little later than each had hoped. Time will tell if this experience is anything like they had envisioned.
Or if it was destined to be prohibitive no matter how it turned out.