Odell Beckham Jr. was a show-stopper . . . at least before the Steelers game
Matt Starkey/Cleveland Browns
The Kabuki Dance is all but over. When Odell Beckham Jr.’s father took to social media near the deadline for National Football League teams to make trades and accused his son’s quarterback of “either hating on Odell or he just doesn’t want him to shine.” He offered video evidence of the times the Cleveland Browns battery has not connected, interceding where most fathers of grown men do not dare to trod.
In the process, he stripped away the masks these two have worn during the uneasy relationship that has been obvious since former general manager John Dorsey brought his two greatest acquisitions together in 2018. After making Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield the No. 1 pick of that year’s draft, Dorsey got him the most flamboyant wide receiver in the NFL, Odell Beckham Jr., from the New York Giants in trade.
It looked as if it might create enough wattage to light up Broadway, if not make the Browns immediate Super Bowl contenders. Because Beckham could do the spectacular, it caused some to believe that Cleveland just might have obtained itself the football equivalent of Reggie Jackson, another modest soul who liked to describe himself as the straw that stirred the New York Yankees’ drink. The difference is that Jackson, who became known as Mr. October for his World Series heroics, delivered.
Beckham figuratively threw the drink in his quarterback’s face, even if it was his father’s hand, not his, on the glass. Check the fingerprints. Daddies don’t do what the senior Beckham did without sanction from famous junior. If anything can kill an injured team’s season, it’s this sort of coup-de-grâce drama. Only these costumes aren’t Kabuki.
Since they wound up in the same offense, teammates has seemed an inappropriate too-generous a word to apply to Mayfield and Beckham. Oh, they have gone through the motions. They’re worked hard to get on the same page. They’ve gotten together during the off-season iron out wrinkles in getting the football from Mayfield’s hand to OBJ’s. (Hand rather than hands, because the one-handed catch became Beckham’s signature.) They have said the right things, mostly, about each other.
And it was all bunkum.
Everyone has been able to see from the beginning that something was wrong. One time it would be Mayfield overthrowing Beckham or putting the ball where it left OBJ in a vulnerable position. Beckham suffered a 2020-ending injury against Cincinnati, the 5-3 team the 4-4 Browns play Sunday, when he tried to chase down the interceptor of one of those throws. Did the injury throw another log on this dumpster fire of a collaboration?
The irony is that Mayfield is now playing injured after trying to tackle another interceptor against Houston in the second game of the season. He suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder that was subsequently revealed to be fractured. After missing his first game following 53 consecutive starts, Mayfield returned in a 15-10 AFC North loss to Pittsburgh in which he played courageously, if less than brilliantly, a fact OBJ apparently did not appreciate because he did not put himself at risk to leap for a high throw from his trussed-up quarterback. As Akron Beacon Journal columnist Marla Ridenour pointed out, Mayfield’s tendency to make high throws has been exacerbated by the fact that head coach/play-caller Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt do not dare put Mayfield at risk of further injury by moving him out of the pocket to throw on bootlegs and sprint-outs where he is both more comfortable and at his best.
Mayfield made a mark at the University of Oklahoma that won him the Heisman Trophy. He worked mostly from a spread offense out of a shotgun formation from which his coach, Lincoln Riley, found ways and offensive linemen under Bill Bedenbaugh’s tutelage, to produce one of college football’s most effective offenses, including running. With the extra yards the shotgun formation provided Mayfield, he could better see over taller defensive linemen than he now can when he takes the snap under center.
Stefanski and Van Pelt want to take advantage of Cleveland’s running talent—Nick Chubb, the currently injured Kareem Hunt, and the emergent D’Ernest Johnson—so they prefer Mayfield to be under center. Though he can and will scramble, Mayfield always viewed himself as a passer, not a dual threat like Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. He doesn’t want to leave the pocket, he wants to take it with him, seeking sight lines and throwing lanes.
It should work. It has worked—sort of. But it isn’t working now and it looks as if there is no chance that it ever will for Mayfield and Beckham. If they masked the fact they are at odds in the way they want to play and how they want the other to collaborate, it will be almost impossible do so now. Good luck to Stefanski and Van Pelt in finding a fix.
Cleveland (i.e., general manager Andrew Berry) talked to interested teams about a trade—principally New Orleans, according to reports—but did not like the terms of a possible quickie divorce. So it looks as if OBJ will be hanging around until the end of the season, when the Browns can release the $15-million-man without future financial consequences. In the meantime, it’s not as if Mayfield and Beckham can move into different rooms of an offense that has been relegated to the dark AFC North basement.
How they will be able to live together for the remaining nine games of the season—forget the playoffs if this stuff keeps happening—is a mystery that only fighting families can understand. Nor does it help when Nosy Nellies stick their you-no-what’s in the middle of it, as OBJ’s good friend LeBron James did. Really, LeBron? Is this a good example for your I Promise School students? If you wanted to be in the middle of a good ol’ knock-down-drag-out Cleveland fight, you could have hung around and refereed this mess rather than pitching in from the rich seats.
The #FreeOBJ campaign, with daddy as front man and LBJ as sidekick, is a script one might have expected from previous New Browns regimes. It seemed as if the team had gotten past that, but the Browns apparently cannot stand to simply have a bad, injury-plagued season. If they cannot give the customers their money’s worth of football, they’ll entertain another way.
But who knew the last dance would turn into Kabuki Theatre featuring a melodrama?
NOTE: All of the enumerated Mayfield Memorandums can be found at: https://stevelovewriter.com/blog/