Regardless of how the season ends, owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey will face a couple of decisions that will have immense impact on the organization.
Should coach Freddie Kitchens be brought back after a rookie season filled with missteps? And what should they do with receiver Odell Beckham Jr.?
The decisions could be intertwined, but I want to separate them and focus on Beckham.
I say ride the wave.
There have already been plenty of ups and downs in Beckham’s nine months with the Browns. But Dorsey had to know that was part of the Beckham experience when he traded for him and can’t give up at the first sign of real turbulence.
The first thing to remember: He’s under contract through 2023, so that puts the final decision in the hands of the Haslams and Dorsey.
The next thing to keep in mind: Like it or not, players have more power than ever in the NFL. It’s not the NBA, but receiver Antonio Brown extricated himself from the Steelers — and then the Raiders — and cornerback Jalen Ramsey got himself out of Jacksonville.
That type of power is saved for the special.
Despite his numbers this season (59 catches, 844 yards, two touchdowns), Beckham qualifies. He’s supremely talented and has an enormous platform as one of the most popular athletes in the world. While teenagers should pay zero attention to the number of followers they have on Instagram, it is worth noting he has 13.9 million.
So if he really wants to force his way out of Cleveland, he’d likely be able to do so. No organization wants to live with daily stories about a disgruntled superstar and the ramifications that has in a locker room and on the field.
Perhaps he’s started down that road. He wouldn’t commit to wanting to stay in Cleveland last week, then two reports had him telling opponents this season to “come get me out of here.”
If I’m Dorsey, that’s not enough for me to give up on Beckham, who’s still on pace for 73 catches and 1,039 receiving yards despite an offense that can’t figure out how to get him the ball and a sports hernia that’s stolen his elite burst.
I don’t doubt that Beckham has complained about Cleveland, even to opponents, and has campaigned to go elsewhere. That doesn’t mean he can’t learn to make it work here and be productive.
Beckham’s personality is impossible to place in a box.
He’s smart, thoughtful and has repeatedly referred to himself as an empath. His teammates with the Giants and Browns have raved about him and his energy.
He can also be moody and seems conflicted. He complains about the constant drama yet fuels it. And he’s done nothing to quiet the speculation of the last week.
That has to be frustrating for a coach and general manager. It’s not a deal-breaker.
I don’t envision Beckham becoming a cancer in the locker room. He wants to be liked by teammates and fans, and even in this disappointing season in which he’s been bothered by an injury he’s shown up every game and played 96.4 percent of the snaps.
Imagine what he could do if he’s healthy and happy.
Dorsey should schedule a meeting with Beckham as soon as possible.
Dorsey needs to know what’s upsetting Beckham and promise to do his best to fix the biggest issues — within reason. He should also reassure Beckham the Browns will improve in the offseason and enter 2020 the legitimate playoff contender everyone expected this season.
It sets a bad precedent to give up on your best players. The Browns also can’t afford to lose their No. 1 receiver.
The position, once a strength, has already been weakened by the release of Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins’ residence in the doghouse. If the Browns traded Beckham, they’d need an overhaul at wideout.
It would also be difficult to get the proper value for Beckham in a trade. Dorsey gave up starting safety Jabrill Peppers and first- and third-round draft picks for Beckham in March, and I don’t think he’d come close to getting the same haul a year later.
The Browns’ best option is to keep Beckham and do their best to make him as comfortable and satisfied as possible. He’s not a bad guy and he’s still an incredible talent.
The ride may be bumpy but it also can be a lot of fun.