Tuesday's online airing of grievances has left the Browns and Odell Beckham at an apparent crossroads.
Beckham was excused from Cleveland's Wednesday practice following a social media push on Tuesday made by Beckham's father that included him sharing a video showing of moments when Beckham was open, but quarterback Baker Mayfield did not throw in his direction. Fellow Nike athlete LeBron James also got involved, tweeting to "#FreeOBJ" on Tuesday ahead of the league's 4 p.m. trade deadline.
The Browns did not trade Beckham by the deadline, leaving the team and Beckham in an awkward situation Wednesday. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski was forced to answer for the suddenly strained relationship and the team's decision to keep Beckham away from the practice field, telling reporters Beckham's representation and general manager Andrew Berry were engaged in discussions about the receiver's future.
"I think they're discussing a lot of things," Stefanski said, via 92.3 The Fan's Keith Britton. "Truth is, I don't have a ton of details for you ... we'll know more as we go on."
Stefanski added he "felt like it was the right thing to do" to excuse Beckham from practice Wednesday after Beckham's father spent plenty of time in the comments of his own Instagram post validating responses disparaging Mayfield's ability and motivations when it comes to targeting his teammates. Stefanski did not directly reference any of the online activity that preceded Wednesday's practice, but did say he has not spoken to Beckham in the last 24 hours.
Later Wednesday, Mayfield was asked about Beckham's father's assertion that he was intentionally not looking in his son's direction when passing.
"Deliberately not throwing the ball to an extremely talented player that I've done a lot of work with ... that's an opinionated statement, I'll say that," Mayfield said, via ESPN's Jake Trotter.
Beckham has struggled to get going in his third season with the Browns, catching 17 passes for 232 yards and going without a touchdown in six games. Fans have spent the time between games asking no one in particular (other than sports-talk radio hosts) why Beckham isn't doing more in Cleveland's offense, pointing to a lack of opportunities. Oddly enough, Beckham leads all Browns pass-catchers in targets with 34, but the nature of those targets is up for debate.
Some of the passes thrown in Beckham's direction have been off-target, including one thrown to the wrong shoulder of a streaking Beckham, who would have iced the eventual win over Minnesota and could have reached the end zone by backpedaling if he so desired. But the fault is certainly not solely Mayfield's. Beckham has suddenly earned a bit of a reputation for dropping catchable passes, especially in key situations this season, going from a random occurrence to a near-weekly occurrence.
Still, two targets -- technically one, considering the second Beckham saw Sunday was wiped out by penalty -- in four quarters is inexcusable for any team that believes he can still be a game-breaking receiver. In the past, Cleveland has made an extra effort to get Beckham involved early, and the target totals paint a picture of a team that has spent considerable energy throwing in his direction.
It simply hasn't worked out. Now, it seems as if the Browns and Beckham are no longer interested in making it work.
Financially, it doesn't make much sense to release Beckham at this time. He'd still account for nearly $13 million of his $15.75 million cap number even after being cut, with the Browns being forced to carry his dead cap for the rest of 2021. If the situation is deemed too toxic to continue as is, the two sides could negotiate a deal that would include Beckham paying back a portion of his salary in exchange for his freedom via free agency.
If released, Beckham would be subject to waivers before receiving outright free agency. With a salary as high as Beckham's and a level of production that simply doesn't match up, it's likely every team will pass on claiming him, eventually leaving him free to sign with any club.
There's also the question of how such an outcome affects the mindset of Browns receiver Jarvis Landry, Beckham's close friend and former LSU teammate who has proven exponentially more valuable to the Browns since he arrived via trade in 2018. Cleveland didn't open its Week 7 win over Denver with a designed pass to Landry by mistake, and even after Landry had perhaps his worst game as a professional in the Browns' Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's still an integral part of the team's offensive potential.
Mayfield said he has spoken to Landry and the onus remains on winning.
"I don't want to draw that line in between them," Mayfield said, via ESPN. "That's not what I'm trying to do. But Jarvis wants to win, just as badly as I do. Those are the types of guys, the type of focus we need to have right now.
Cleveland seems intent on not allowing one disgruntled player to derail the team's train. Wednesday's excusal from practice demonstrated as much. But the Browns are already having a hard time keeping their locomotive on the tracks in 2021, and can't afford much collateral damage.
If ever there was a test for the wunderkind Berry, this is it. We'll see how he handles it -- and where Beckham's future lies -- in the days ahead.