One that even wore a kilt to this year’s Met Gala “just to do it.”
Those “free man” and “happy man” statements may seem weird considering that Beckham was one of the NFL’s most polarizing players. But as Beckham gets to enjoy his new scenery with the Browns, all signs point to him having a breakout season in his debut campaign in Cleveland.
To understand why OBJ is primed for a career year – one that could eclipse his career-best 1,450-yard 2015 season where he caught 96 balls for 13 touchdowns – you have to understand where he’s been and what he’s been through.
The key with Odell Beckham isn’t just understanding the player on the field, but understanding the once-frustrated player off of it.
The first step to Beckham’s upcoming renaissance in Cleveland was leaving the place he felt held him back. It was clear Beckham wanted out of New York after last season, especially as the team began to struggle. The Giants have never been a franchise that has embraced flamboyant players, let alone that big star wide receiver like Beckham in its history. The historically first-class, traditional Giants were never a true fit for Beckham, though both sides tried to make the relationship work.
“I just felt with the Giants, I was just stuck at a place that wasn’t working for me anymore,” Beckham said in a recent interview with Complex. “I felt like I wasn’t going to reach my full potential there; mentally, physically, spiritually, everything I felt capable of doing.
“So, I think allowing me to be in an environment where I can be myself and give it a different approach, I feel like my football will benefit. I’m just excited about being able to play football again and not have to deal with all the other stuff and politics that came with my previous role.”
He also admitted in a feature in GQ last month that he thought he was going to get traded two years ago and that he was going to get traded to Cleveland last year.
There was a clash with the Giants. While they embraced his talents and production on the field, the organization never truly embraced him off of it. His signature celebrations and attitude were new to a Giants franchise that has never been about that sort of thing.
Beckham starts his time in Cleveland with very familiar and comfortable surroundings.
He’s reunited with LSU teammate and fellow star receiver Jarvis Landry, who’s entering his second season with the Browns. He’ll also have former LSU and Giants wide receiving coach Adam Henry on hand. Henry coached both Landry and Beckham at LSU and Beckham with the Giants from 2016-17. Beckham recorded a career-high 101 catches with 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016, his only 16-game season.
Those totals mark the second-highest reception total in a season in Giants history and the third-most receiving yardage.
“I’m very excited by the culture at the Browns,” he added. “It’s been building over the years, and they’ve got players over there who I just know I’m gonna click with. Jarvis is a brother of mine, and we dreamed of this moment. It’s just crazy that it’s actually happening.
“The percentage of people that make it to the NFL is less than 1 percent, so the chances of me playing with one of my brothers on the same team is a dream manifested, for sure.”
He also admitted the worst-kept secret around the Giants: that he had issues with franchise quarterback Eli Manning – who is a complete opposite of Beckham personality-wise. He couldn’t admit it officially when he was a Giant, but now with Cleveland, Beckham vented his frustrations about Manning while complimenting his new quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
“I’m going to have to get adjusted to the speed because he has an arm,” Beckham said to Cleveland.com. “He’s throwing that ball hard. Just catching him from the first day, it was like, ‘Wow! This is completely different.’ It just takes time. Like I said, we play in September, so it’s a good thing.”
Although an older Manning didn’t make things easier for Beckham the last few years, OBJ did have his fair share of big drops at crucial times. That’s a fact that isn’t discussed as much as it should be.
The next step to his upcoming renaissance is getting healthy.
After three-straight 1,300-plus yard receiving seasons to start his career, injuries finally fully caught up with Beckham. He wasn’t the same after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in 2017, where he only played in four games, posting just 25 receptions for 302 yards with three touchdowns.
He came back strong in 2018, recording another 1,000-plus yard season with a beyond-terrible offense before suffering bruised quadriceps in Week 12. He played through the injury to help the Giants beat the Bears the following week but missed the rest of the regular season.
Beckham might have only attended one of the Browns’ 12 offseason workouts, but all signs point to him being ready for training camp and the preseason.
While the Giants missed out on his true potential and overall explosiveness – albeit with injuries, a struggling offense and an old quarterback that’s as good as done – the Browns can take advantage of it.
“I’ve been waiting to explode in games, and I’ve been working extremely hard to get take my game to the next level,” Beckham said. “That’s exactly what I think I can do at the Browns.”
Beckham will be going from the shark in the Giants shallow pond of pass catchers to the fish in a lake full of receiving talent. He’ll have to compete for balls his way alongside Landry and rising tight end David Njoku.
With a young gunslinger in Mayfield — one that even OBJ has compared to Brett Favre — there’s no question that Beckham will have fun in what seems to be an electric offense on paper.
Landry and Njoku will open things up a lot for Beckham, as he will for them. Stats wise, Beckham may just eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2019, or just finish shy of it. He could also shatter his previous career-best, 2015 season.
He may catch fewer balls with more options around him, but he may have more potential opportunities to make big plays, especially since Mayfield has a rocket of an arm and isn’t afraid to throw anywhere.
When healthy, Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and has proven it. Now we get to see what he can do when healthy and with a rising team like the Browns. He’ll have a quarterback that has a solid arm and with people who he’s familiar with. He joins an organization that will embrace the personality along with the production that is OBJ, instead of look the other way when the personality comes up through production.
As long as Cleveland avoids boat parties, we may finally see the very best of Odell Beckham Jr. in 2019.