If you're a New York Giants fan, you've probably already spent too much time this season pondering Odell Beckham Jr.'s ongoing relationship with a kicking net. Two things are true: a) OBJ is a sublime talent who has the skills and work ethic to become one of the best wide receivers in the game; and b) his combustible nature has been a distraction to the team this season and feeds into the perception of highly skilled wide receivers as temperamental divas who need to be managed as much as coached.
I'm reminded of Mike Tomlin's saying: "I will tolerate you until I can replace you." He wasn't the first coach to utter those words, but they've never been truer than they are in today's NFL. While it is unlikely that Beckham's antics will escalate to the point of him being run out of town, it's not entirely unprecedented. Remember Terrell Owens? Chad Johnson? Both were terrific players; both were judged, at certain points in their respective careers, to be more trouble than they were worth.
Beckham's not there yet. He is, by all accounts, a very likeable and solid citizen off the field. It is his penchant for creating unnecessary drama on the field that we are witnessing nearly every Sunday. When he is putting up 222 yards and two touchdowns, like he just did in a tight win over the Ravens, it is merely a distraction. But when he performed similar histrionics in the previous two weeks (two losses for Big Blue), while tallying a total of just eight catches for 79 yards and a late, keep-the-score-respectable touchdown (his first TD of the season), his act began to feel contrived and tiresome.
Beckham's temper tantrums on the sideline are reminiscent of Dez Bryant, circa 2013. And while both players can come across as petulant children in certain situations, I'm convinced their antics come from a good place -- though they have at times expressed this poorly. In the case of Bryant, sideline audio from the 2013 game vs. the Detroit Lions proved that his behavior looked much worse than his message, but the act of openly disrespecting his quarterback hardly drew a positive reaction from his teammates.
Beckham's Week 3 outburst against Washington -- the first chapter of the kicking net trilogy -- was similar in that it was an over-the-top reaction to a tough outing. But the biggest difference is that Bryant -- without surrendering any of his intensity -- learned from his mistakes. OBJ, meanwhile, has turned his ongoing relationship with the kicking net into a three-act play.
Players and coaches have to respect skill and intensity. But on a football team, where 53 players and a coaching staff are sacrificing for the common cause, there is little patience for players who put their own concerns above those of the team during the game. (Off the field, different rules apply, and players can spend a lot more time being selfish.) When OBJ scored a garbage-time touchdown against the Packers, he didn't help his team or himself by carrying on the attention-getting charade. In a game in which his team was en route to losing, he wasn't worried about that. He was worried about running over to the kicking net and making nice.
Still, you could argue that Beckham's outburst against the Packers in no way affected the outcome of the game. It was harder to defend his actions Sunday, when, after scoring the go-ahead touchdown against the Ravens, he proceeded to rip off his helmet, automatically costing his team a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff and jeopardizing the game that the Giants absolutely needed to win. (This was before he made a show of carrying his relationship with the kicking net to the next level.)
If this was an XFL game or a movie about pro football, it all might have been amusing. But here in the NFL, Beckham's desperate pleas for attention forced his teammates to defend a shorter field on what could have been the game-winning drive for the Ravens.
I don't criticize the passion and the emotion of the player because you walk a fine line when you try and scale back the fire someone plays with. I have coached many players who wore their emotions on their sleeves -- many of them already in or well on their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As Eric Clapton sang, "It's in the way that you use it."
Cris Carter, at various points in his career, wasn't all that different than OBJ. He played with an emotion that, as a coach, you had to be aware of at all times. If you didn't get him involved early, you risked him losing his cool or, worse yet, emotionally checking out of the game altogether. I'm not exaggerating in saying that when I was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings, I would have a specifically defined section on my call sheet labeled "Cris Carter." I knew I could go to those plays at any given time, even if only to get Cris his touches and keep his emotional balance in check. Let's not forget, across from Cris was another pretty good receiver, Randy Moss, who wasn't without his own outbursts. The challenge for a coach is balancing those myriad personalities, getting everyone focused on the same goal without squelching the personalities or emotions of the people at hand. It's easier said than done.
And make no mistake: It's tougher today. If Moss or Carter had an outburst, it might get replayed once on "This Week in the NFL," but it wasn't seen millions of times on YouTube and in countless internet memes. The temptations and costs of this kind of divisive behavior are greater than ever. But some things don't change, and one of them is that during the game, the team comes first.
I promise you, most of Beckham's Giants teammates are ready for OBJ to end his romance with the kicking net.