Opinion: Odell Beckham Jr.’s season-ending injury leaves questions about WR’s fit, future with Browns

The Cleveland Browns and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. received bad news on Monday morning when tests revealed that the three-time Pro Bowl pass-catcher suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Sunday and will not play again this season. 

It’s another test for the Browns, who already are trying to remain in contention in the AFC North with starting running back Nick Chubb and offensive guard Wyatt Teller both sidelined. 

But Beckham’s injury also represents another disappointing blow for the wide receiver and the Browns, whose union has yet to produce the grandiose results that team officials anticipated when they acquired him from the New York Giants in 2019. 

Now, the Browns must wait at least another year before finding out if quarterback Baker Mayfield and his most gifted target can achieve the greatness that, at least on paper, seemed possible. But for the time being, the Browns will need Mayfield to prove he can do more than less. Beckham’s injury, meanwhile, should shed light on the importance of his role in Cleveland’s offense, which is still a matter of debate.

MORE: 32 things we learned from Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season

OPINION: Cam Newton, Patriots look lost as they hit historic low

NFL WINNERS, LOSERS: Seahawks squander opportunities in first loss

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) leaves the game with an apparent injury during the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. (Photo: Joseph Maiorana, Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

Fairly or unfairly, Beckham has been under scrutiny ever since the Browns brought him into the fold. Although his first season in Cleveland marked fifth time in six years he topped the 1,000-yard mark (the lone exception coming during his injury-shortened campaign in 2017), Beckham’s production and impact hadn’t approached the level of explosiveness that made him a household name during the first three seasons with New York. 

After averaging 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns per season from 2014-16, Beckham recorded 1,035 yards (notching only two 100-yard games) and just four touchdowns in 2019.

This season, the closest thing Cleveland has seen to Beckham in top form was the Week 4 performance in which he caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball twice for 73 yards and a touchdown in a 49-38 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise, Beckham found the end zone just once more this season.

Beckham does impact the game in other ways, commanding attention from defenses and freeing up teammates to make plays. But because of the Browns’ approach under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, who emphasizes a strong run game with a complementary passing attack, Beckham has seemed like a bad fit in the new offense. That has prompted some within the league to wonder why the Browns hold onto the wideout if they don’t feature him more prominently. Beckham’s use also raises questions about Mayfield’s ability to shoulder a heavy load in the passing game. After Beckham got hurt on Sunday, however, Mayfield threw for a career-high five touchdown passes while spreading the ball around to six different receivers. 

Stefanski has continued to stress the importance of Beckham’s role in Cleveland. 

“Obviously it’s a big loss and important part of what we do, so we’ll have to huddle up and figure out what our players do best," Stefanski said Monday. "You never replace a player of Odell’s caliber with one player. … That’s the challenge that we have, and I think our guys will be up to the challenge.” 

A timeline for Beckham’s recovery remains unknown, but it’s often a 12-month process, and many players find they don’t feel like they totally regain their explosiveness until sometime during the year after their return to action.

If he plays in 2021, Beckham does appear likely to do so for the Browns. 

At times in the last year-and-a-half, Beckham’s future in Cleveland has appeared uncertain. 

Reports of Beckham’s dissatisfaction with the team and the way he is used have occasionally surfaced. The Browns, however, have clung to Beckham regardless of whatever frictions and hefty salary cap figures have accompanied him.

Many people had wondered if another fruitless campaign would prompt Browns officials to change their minds this coming offseason. But now, with Beckham bracing for surgery and a lengthy recovery process, it would seem challenging for Cleveland to offload the 27-year-old. His health and questions about his ability to regain his old form would figure to make him less attractive to teams. So, too, would his contract. Beckham is set to earn $15.75 million next season, with $12.97 million guaranteed for injury and converting to a full guarantee if he is on the roster on the third day of the league year. 

Resolution on Beckham’s future must wait. For now, his focus will center on his recovery. Meanwhile, the Browns’ most pressing question involves whether they can still compete without him. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

Source: Read Full Article