I wrote in the offseason about the joy of dreaming about possible trades, even when you’re well aware they’re doubtful to happen. But now and again, a player becomes available for trade or hits free agency that would both make sense and could happen.
Forgive me if I’m being naïve. I think Odell Beckham Junior could fit this category. Things never quite seemed right with OBJ in Cleveland. He didn’t become their WR1 in the way he expected and never developed that connection with Mayfield. Then last season, he picked up a severe injury, and Brown’s offense looks better without him. The situation deteriorated this season to the extent Beckham’s relationship with Mayfield and the Browns appeared to break down entirely. It was, therefore, unsurprising to see Cleveland let go of OBJ; even if it is confusing, they didn’t manage to trade him instead.
There were rumors immediately ahead of the trade deadline that the Colts would do a deal with Miami for DeVante Parker. We, of course, know that deal didn’t happen, and it’s ultimately hard to tell if an agreement was ever a serious possibility.
In many ways, that trade would have made sense, so it felt like a shame it didn’t happen. That rumored deal would be forgotten quickly if Indianapolis signed OBJ. Beckham would be a better player and cost nothing in draft capital. He would also likely be cost-effective, given Cleveland has supposedly been converting his salary into a signing bonus to make him more affordable for other teams.
Anytime a player hits free agency or is available for a trade, there’s a reason for it. Sometimes that’s a terrible miscalculation of their talent by their existing team, but more often than not, there’s a flaw with the player concerned. That doesn’t mean a good deal for the player isn’t possible. I think Carson Wentz is an example of a player who had apparent flaws that led to him being traded, yet now looks like an excellent deal for the team that acquired him.
In the case of Odell Beckham Jr, those flaws seem to be with his character. We’ve seen a drip-feeding of often anonymous reports about OBJ’s lousy attitude or unwillingness to mix with teammates. That could be a dealbreaker for an organization that values character as highly as the Colts do. Although once again, Carson Wentz springs to mind. Before, during, and after Wentz’s trade to Indianapolis, we heard similar reports about Wentz’s lousy attitude or claims he wasn’t a team player. Indeed, those are characteristics Colts fans haven’t recognized in him in the time he’s been in Indianapolis so far.
It will be up to Chris Ballard, Jim Irsay, and Frank Reich to cut through the noise and determine what Beckham’s character really is (if they are seriously interested in him at all). If they determine OBJ’s character isn’t a dealbreaker, there are many reasons for them to try and sign him.
The Colts do have a clear need at wide receiver. That was clear this offseason, but Ballard understandably prioritized a new Quarterback, Left Tackle, and two new edge-rushing prospects in free agency and the draft, respectively. Ballard did, of course, resign TY Hilton, who had a customarily great game against the Texans. But injuries to Hilton and Campbell have left the position looking a little thin. In the long-term, the Colts will have to contemplate a future without TY Hilton. Although Pittman has brilliantly claimed the WR1 spot this year, and the likes of Michael Strachan and Dezmon Patmon have looked like talented but unpolished prospects.
Having enjoyed watching Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and TY Hilton light up the league over the past 25 years, Colts fans are perhaps a little spoiled when it comes to wide receivers. But I don’t think it’s greedy for Colts fans to say the team will need an established and skilled wide receiver to play alongside Pittman when they part ways with TY Hilton.
No Colts fan wants Hilton to leave, as evidenced by the strength of feeling expressed on the #BringTYHome hashtag this summer. But given Hilton was a free agent this offseason and is only playing on a one-year contract, the Colts front office and Colts fans must comprehend a future without TY. Beckham turned 29 this week, so he’s three years younger than TY Hilton (who will turn 32 on November 14). That should give him at least a few more years of playing in his physical prime.
It’s no guarantee that Beckham would rediscover the form in Indianapolis that saw him put up three consecutive 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns seasons. But he’d likely get the share of targets he’s craving and would be playing alongside a great wide receiver in Pittman who would command a lot of attention from defenders. It’s still early days in Carson Wentz’s time in Indianapolis, but the signs are positive if Wentz can continue to play brilliant football. At the same time, Wentz’s cannon of an arm has to be an attractive prospect for OBJ. Notably, the Colts are probably the team in the NFL that can best match the Browns’ elite offensive line and running game Beckham has become used to playing alongside.
If Frank Reich could help Beckham play close to his best, the Colts would have secured an elite WR for the next few years for peanuts. In doing so, they’d quickly be developing a formidable offense few teams would look forward to playing. It’s always hard in situations like this to tell if the Colts are legitimately interested in OBJ. Still, if they are, I’d be thrilled for Indianapolis to secure his services.
However, there are several reasons why the Colts might not be trying to sign Beckham (alongside the possible character issues already discussed). There’s always the chance Chris Ballard doesn’t want to make a move for him. Ballard has gained a reputation as a quiet GM at the start of free agency and at the trade deadline.
I wonder whether Les Snead has unrealistically raised fans’ expectations for aggression from general managers. Indeed, the approach of Snead summarised as “F*ck them picks” in memes could hardly be further from Ballard’s system, which is often summarised as “I like the picks.”
I do think some Colts fans gloss over the fact that moves for Bucker and Wentz show Ballard is willing to be aggressive when he thinks he can get good value. He just doesn’t typically feel there is good value at the start of free agency when (sometimes desperate) teams pay significant money to good players or good money to average ones. As a free agent, OBJ would cost no picks, so the Colt’s interest in OBJ will be determined by whether they believe he’s worth the salary cap hit and any cap space maneuvering that would be necessary to get him.
One unexpected benefit of the Colt’s underwhelming results so far this season is their better-than-expected position in the waiver priority list. That being said, there are several teams ahead of the Colts in the pecking order who might take Beckham before the Colts even get the chance to. Although those teams may also decide that Beckham might not be interested in playing for a team that is unlikely to contend for a Super Bowl in the next few years and so may decide he isn’t worth signing.
On the flip side, Indianapolis may decide Beckham will likely want to play for a team in a bigger market and be better placed to make the playoffs this year. That’s certainly possible. However, OBJ’s desire to get more targets than he’s received in Cleveland may rule out teams like the Rams, Dallas, and Tampa Bay, who already have stacked wide receiving corps.
Many teams could conceivably be interested in signing Beckham, but it’s hard to tell who is best placed to get him. Not that we’ll have to wait too long to find out where OBJ ends up unless he clears waivers.
I won’t get too excited yet about the prospect of Beckham playing for the Colts. But if Ballard does sign OBJ, I’ll welcome him to Indianapolis and allow myself to get excited about the team acquiring another serious offensive weapon.