Chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta not only shot down a report the Browns discussed trading Odell Beckham Jr. to the Vikings for a pair of draft picks in 2021, he made it clear the Browns have no plans to get rid of the superstar receiver.
“In short, I’ll just say it was completely false,” DePodesta said Thursday on a conference call. “It’s frustrating a little bit obviously. I think it’s pretty clear we’re trying to build at this point. We’ve done an awful lot in free agency, we’re excited about what we have a chance to do in the draft and we’re really building around a core of players that we think have a chance to be a championship-caliber core. And the idea that we would take away from that core at this moment just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And really not something that we’re exploring at all.
“So, yeah, it’s completely false.”
The Browns traded for Beckham last offseason and he caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. He played all 16 games despite dealing with a core muscle injury all season then had surgery in January.
Beckham reportedly told opponents during the season he wanted out of Cleveland, but by the end of the season he said he wanted to stay.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here,” he said Dec. 18. “We’re going to figure this thing out. It’s just too special to leave.”
Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd reported Wednesday he was told Beckham remains unhappy, even if he won’t say it publicly.
“I have no reason to believe that he doesn’t want to be here,” DePodesta said. “Odell’s been very good this offseason. He’s been engaged I know with Kevin (Stefanski, coach). I think he’s excited about the possibilities of what this offensive system can bring for him. And we’re excited to have him.”
Beckham got to know Stefanski when he was at team headquarters rehabbing from surgery. He received his new jerseys from the Browns this week and showed his excitement on an Instagram video.
Earlier this offseason Stefanski, general manager Andrew Berry and owner Jimmy Haslam separately expressed their desire for Beckham to stay and make it work.
Berry earned rave reviews for his first foray into free agency. He landed right tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper, backup quarterback Case Keenum and a slew of defenders.
“Andrew Berry did an outstanding job of executing on the plan,” DePodesta said. “We obviously went after some target guys early with the offense, we decided we’d be a little bit more patient with the defense and fill in a lot of the depth that we felt like we needed.
“AB really ought to be commended. He was juggling an awful lot. I think under normal circumstances, those may have played out over the course of two or three weeks and not five or six days.”
Hooper, Conklin and Keenum were priorities — for a reason.
“We’ve talked a lot about being a quarterback-centric organization and the first signings certainly point to doing whatever we can to support the quarterback,” DePodesta said.
Given the lack of quality veteran options on the roster, the popular assumption is the Browns will draft a left tackle in the first round and immediately insert him in the starting lineup. DePodesta cautioned it’s not that simple.
“There’s definitely a balance between your short-term and long-term expectations,” he said. “In the short term, even when you take great players in the draft, you have to expect that it’s going to take a little time for them to get their sea legs at the NFL level.
“But I do think you can run into problems when you go into the draft with the idea that you’re solving needs for that season. I think sometimes that can be a mistake.”
DePodesta cited the 2016 tackle class that included Ronnie Stanley, Conklin, Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Decker and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
“There are some really, really good players right now after four years in the NFL,” he said. “They didn’t necessarily play at that level in Year 1, so I think we have to expect that if you take any young player, regardless of position, but certainly at the tackle position, that they’re not just going to be an All-Pro right away.”
He said someone like Joe Thomas, who was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, is “extremely unusual.”
READY TO GO
The learning curve will be even steeper if the entire offseason program is done virtually and rookies don’t hit the field until training camp.
“It’s something we’ve talked a lot about internally,” DePodesta said. “I don’t know that it’ll have a dramatic impact on what we do, just because I actually think our expectations for a rookie even in a normal year are pretty level set.
“I will tell you, our coaches have done an unbelievable job of preparing for what’s essentially a virtual offseason program for our players. And I’ve been blown away with how they’ve put together a plan to teach and to implement our philosophy and implement our culture and build our culture with our players.”
DePodesta’s four-year contract expired in January and he’s yet to agree to terms on an extension.
“Jimmy and I were discussing it through the latter part of the winter, and I think we are in a great place on it,” he said. “I will be honest, with hiring the coach, hiring the GM, free agency, the coronavirus and now the draft, it just hasn’t been front-burner material in terms of getting it done.
“I am wholly confident that we will, probably shortly after the draft. It really hasn’t been the focus of late.”
The unique draft season includes canceled pro days, no private workouts and no visits to team facilities. DePodesta feels good about the Browns’ ability to get information anyway after having “95 percent” of it gathered before the lockdown.
“Our coaches, front office personnel and some other people have all participated in FaceTime calls that have been allowed with some of the prospects,” he said. “In times that we have needed medical information, we have been able to get that.”