Odell Beckham Jr. wants to pick his next team and play for a Super Bowl contender. That’s the overriding message from his camp to NFL franchises as the wideout heads to waivers and a likely path into free agency.
For those teams that might have interest in claiming Beckham, his stance behind the scenes is clear: The wideout doesn’t want to be selected. He wants to clear waivers and ultimately go to free agency and choose his next destination. If a team selects him off waivers, it will be against Beckham’s wishes, which isn’t going to make for a good union the remainder of this season.
This was a driving theme when Beckham’s representatives were negotiating what amounted to be a buyout with the Cleveland Browns over the past several days. It's a deal that ultimately set Beckham free in a complicated exchange, which is slated to free up $3 million in salary-cap space for the Browns if the wide receiver isn’t claimed on waivers (or $7.25 million if he is).
A source familiar with the talks between Beckham’s camp and the Browns said the agreement almost went far differently, with the Browns prepared to rework the contract in a manner that would have resulted in the franchise eating nearly $6.25 million of Beckham's base salary heading into waivers. That would have lowered Beckham’s salary on waivers to about $1 million, making it possible for 30 teams (not including the Browns) to claim him. A source said the NFL Players Association preferred this deal, but Beckham’s camp didn’t because of the risk involved.
The worry for Beckham: If the Browns ate $6.25 million of remaining salary, a wide receiver-needy team like the Detroit Lions — who have the No. 1 waiver position due to their 0-8 record — would claim Beckham and his $1 million salary with virtually no risk. That is the opposite of what Beckham was trying to achieve when he asked for a trade to a contender or a release.
In hopes of avoiding that scenario, Beckham worked out a contract that would leave his salary at the full $7.25 million for any team that claims him.
(Lions head coach Dan Campbell told reporters on Monday that the team had no interest in acquiring Beckham.)
Even that salary doesn’t erase all of the risk that a team won’t defy Beckham’s camp and claim him. As unlikely as that scenario is, the NFLPA’s latest salary-cap tally lists nine teams (not including the Browns) that still have enough space to claim Beckham on Monday. Among those teams:
Jacksonville Jaguars ($27.8 million in cap room)
Philadelphia Eagles ($20.8 million)
Denver Broncos ($13.4 million)
Seattle Seahawks ($12.5 million)
Carolina Panthers ($11.1 million)
Los Angeles Chargers ($10.3 million)
Pittsburgh Steelers ($10.2 million)
Cincinnati Bengals ($8.4 million)
Washington Football Team ($9.2 million)
The Chargers might be the only bonafide Super Bowl contender on that list. They also have clearcut Nos. 1 and 2 wide receivers.
The Broncos and Steelers are still in playoff contention, though it’s fair to wonder whether head coaches Vic Fangio and Mike Tomlin would want to add Beckham to the mix in the middle of the season.
When it comes to betting odds, none of the teams with more than $7.25 million in cap space are among the favorites to add Beckham, which is suggestive that oddsmakers don’t see him getting plucked off waivers. That would also line up with the prevailing thought on Beckham from multiple teams before the NFL trade deadline, all of which suggested he didn’t have a trade market because of that remaining salary.
But it’s a never-say-never league. That means until he clears waivers, there’s no telling if a team makes an unexpected claim and prevents Beckham from hitting free agency. If that occurs, Beckham could refuse to report, but he would not be paid and his claiming team would hold his rights until a resolution could be reached.
On the flip side, Beckham’s preference is unclear if he becomes a free agent. While the Las Vegas Raiders might have had interest, multiple reports suggest they are going with free agent DeSean Jackson, who was released by the Los Angeles Rams after the trade deadline.
The New Orleans Saints, despite having roughly only $700,000 in cap space, could be a destination. The Saints remain in the playoff mix and badly need help at wideout. A source also told Yahoo Sports that the Saints called the Browns before the trade deadline to inquire about wide receivers, but no offer for Beckham ever materialized.