One of the intriguing broadcast moments that got lost in the Los Angeles Rams‘ Monday night stomping of the Arizona Cardinals came about midway through the first quarter. If you were watching ESPN’s Manningcast, future Hall of Fame wideout Larry Fitzgerald played the third wheel to Peyton and Eli and the subject turned to Odell Beckham Jr.’s rise with L.A.
“I love the way they’re utilizing him in the red zone,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s such a threat with his lateral quickness, his ability to be able to go up and high-point the football. And also with his catch radius, he’s got one of the best catch radiuses in the game. I love the way the Rams utilize him and feature him in the red zone, because he’s so dynamic.”
Minutes later, with the Rams facing third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a high-point, 50-50 ball near the back corner of the end zone toward Beckham, who beat cornerback Marco Wilson with a three-step jab, before pulling in the first touchdown of the Los Angeles blowout. The play was a perfect overlay of Fitzgerald’s assessment, showing off things that have been Beckham’s bread and butter in his best moments. Speed off the line. Short area quickness. Athleticism. Catch radius and expansive hands.
In that moment, you had to wonder how many people in the Cleveland Browns’ organization were thinking to themselves, “Where was that guy the past few years?” But you also had to wonder how many other NFL teams might have also been watching and wondering to themselves, “How can we add that guy to our mix?”
Two months ago, the number of teams asking that latter question was zero. When Beckham was waived in November, no franchise — including the Rams — wanted to be on the hook for downside risk of the $7.25 million in remaining salary for Beckham this season. Looking back, it seems like it should have been a no-brainer investment for multiple teams that will line up for this weekend’s divisional-round games. Just run your eyes over the wide receiver depth charts of the other seven remaining teams in the playoffs and imagine Beckham sliding into it.
But the truth was Beckham indeed was that damaged coming out of Cleveland. Not only were teams uncertain he’d be all-in during their playoff pushes, they didn’t even know if he was capable of being a valuable piece along the way.
Now some of those same teams could line up for Beckham in free agency, where he’s very likely to have a more robust market than anyone expected back in November. Not only has he revamped his value this offseason, he has done it in a way that some thought was impossible: By playing a valuable second-fiddle role to wideout Cooper Kupp, and also showcasing himself as one of the best red-zone players on the Los Angeles roster over the past nine games. In that span, Kupp has dominated the passing offense as the No. 1 option for Stafford. Beckham has played a strong support role, catching 31 passes for 305 yards and six touchdowns — not to mention a 40-yard pass to running back Cam Akers in Monday’s playoff win.
While nobody is going to look at the expanse of the past two months and suggest Beckham is reverting back to his early ceiling with the New York Giants, plenty will look at him and see a top-tier No. 2 wideout. That’s going to be a hotly pursued commodity this free agency, even in a strong wide receiver class. And Beckham will now get some deeper looks, particularly with Green Bay’s Davante Adams expected to be franchise tagged, and the risk attached to Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin and Dallas’ Michael Gallup, who both suffered serious knee injuries in the closing weeks of the regular season.
What will that mean for Beckham’s price? That’s hard to say. Thus far, assessments have been all over the place. One AFC executive said his “Mendoza Line” will likely be north of $10 million per season. Two other league sources slotted his likely contract value between the deals landed last offseason by Nelson Agholor ($11 million per season) and Corey Davis ($12.5 million).
“In the right scheme and with the right quarterback, he’s an upgrade over both of those guys,” one executive said. “But that’s going to make his market tougher. He’s not just going to be someone who is going to attract everyone. And vice versa, he’s not going to want to be in most places, I’d assume, after the Cleveland thing. Truthfully, the Rams are probably the best place for him. But they have [Robert] Woods and a big [Kupp extension] coming. Stafford has to be paid. They can’t do everybody on offense. Maybe he gives up a little in salary to live in Los Angeles.”
That will play itself out, of course. But there’s no denying that Beckham wanted to be where he is right now, playing with friends Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey, living a California life, and hitching his career to Stafford — who unlike Baker Mayfield has the physical tools to throw him the ball anywhere on the field. The winning will surely help, too.
All told, that’s a lot of positives that might keep Beckham a Ram longer than many think. That, or make him too expensive for Los Angeles. Whatever happens, it has been a remarkable career makeover in only nine weeks. And we’re going to be able to measure exactly how remarkable in free agency dollars in just a few months.