Remember when Odell Beckham Jr was on top of the NFL world? I do. I remember it like it was 2016. Because it was.
That was the last time OBJ made a Pro Bowl. The last time he had more than 77 catches. The last time he had more than 1,052 yards. The last time he had more than six touchdowns. The last time fans may have not associated the nickname “OBJ” with injuries.
Even though if you remember correctly, OBJ has been getting injured since his rookie season in 2014.
This is not to say that Beckham wasn’t the second-best receiver on the Los Angeles Rams last season. It is not to say that the Rams sorely needed him for the stretch run and the playoffs. It is not even to say that OBJ isn’t worth whatever he wants—and I do hope that he gets everything he does want.
But if OBJ wants more than $7 million for a fraction of the 2022 season, then the Rams will need to look elsewhere for depth at wide receiver.
On Thursday, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson once again continued her hype train for Odell Beckham Jr., the player who she has pinned to the top of her Twitter from a January 31 interview with OBJ following the NFC Championship game, tweeting that OBJ’s free agency is “turning up” and that $7 million over one year... “ain’t getting it done.”
She added “#allegedly”.
If a one-year, $7 million contract isn’t good enough for a player who turns 30 in November, which could be before he’s even able to return from his ACL tear that occurred in the Super Bowl, then the LA Rams might not be able to form a reunion with OBJ this year.
Perhaps what Anderson is alluding to is the notion that OBJ wants a contract that is longer than one year, something that assures him a home and guarantees for 2023, once he has been given a chance to be at least 18 months removed from his injury when that season begins. But surely teams are going to be wary of the impact that OBJ can have this year, as he will only be seven months removed from his ACL tear when Week 1 hits.
And only about nine months removed from the surgery when the Rams hit the midpoint of the season. Which is also when OBJ will be 30.
Keeping in mind that the NFC Championship game is OBJ’s only 100-yard receiving game over the last three seasons, including playoffs.
While ACL tears and surgery are less devastating today than they were 20 years ago, this does not guarantee a full return to form. Especially as the NFL continues to gear more towards getting younger and cheaper at every position, perhaps with wide receivers being at more risk than many of their peers.
Four years ago, NBC Sports Chicago took a look at the recovery rate for receivers with ACL tears following the same injury to Bears wideout Allen Robinson. Now a member of the Rams, Robinson tore his ACL and missed all but one target during the 2017 season with the Jaguars. Robinson was ready for training camp and the start of the season after signing with Chicago that year, but did miss three games that year, as well as four games last year.
Other than that, Robinson has been as effective as before, but he was 24 when he tore his ACL. Teams won’t look at the situation the same when you tear your ACL at 29.
One semi-success story in that regard is Jordy Nelson, who missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL, when he was 30. He returned to catch 97 passes for 1,257 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns the following year, but was less effective after that and out of the league after two more seasons.
Cecil Shorts was not nearly as successful as Nelson or OBJ of course, but an ACL tear at age 29 did end his career in 2016. It was essentially the same story for Domenik Hixon in 2014 and Louis Murphy in 2015, but you could definitely argue that they wouldn’t have had long careers anyway. You would think that Sidney Rice could have had a long career, but he tore his ACL at age 27 and retired from football the following offseason, also citing concussions as a reason to walk away.
Really any major injury around the age of 30 can force a player to consider retirement in part due to the fact that teams may not see the same value in that player that they did before. Odell Beckham Jr may be asking for $10 million for one season, but that doesn’t mean that there is a team out there is willing to pay it, so it could happen that OBJ chooses to retire instead.
We know that these days, players can actually have more lucrative careers after football than as a player and certainly OBJ carries a ton of value in the media just by being “OBJ”.
Otherwise, why would you pin him to the top of your Twitter for six months?
Tearing an ACL is far from a career death knell, but doing so at 29 is a much different case than when Cooper Kupp tore his ACL in 2018, or Jameson Williams prior to entering the draft this year, or Robinson five years ago. Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton tore his ACL in 2020 and his presence on the field was not as noticeable in 2021, and Sutton was 25 when the injury happened.
Teams must not only consider what OBJ is worth when he’s healthy, or what he’s worth when he’s 30, but also what he will be worth in 2022 not fully knowing when he will be able to return, if he will have lingering injuries because of his ACL surgery (hamstring issues are a neverending concern), when and if he will ever be 100-percent again, and most important of all, how many games and snaps will OBJ even be present for this season?
Is it meant to be a floor of $7 million on a prorated deal, therefore meaning that the Rams only have to pay OBJ $2 to $4 million?
Or is OBJ’s expectation actually that a team will pay him over $7 million for one year with a large chunk of that coming while he’s on PUP or IR?
And to what degree is Josina Anderson helping in these negotiations?
Coincidentally, the most comparable situation today to OBJ’s is that of former Rams receiver Robert Woods. Also 30, also coming off of a torn ACL, Woods will make a $10 million base salary (fully guaranteed) with the Tennessee Titans after being traded for a 2023 sixth round pick.
But that situation does have notable differences from OBJ’s situation and what the LA Rams can afford to pay any wide receiver, not just OBJ.
Number one, the Titans didn’t sign Woods to a contract after he tore his ACL. The Rams signed Woods to an extension in 2020, with 2022 being the first year of the new deal, and the Titans merely agreed to pay his guaranteed base salary knowing that they won’t owe him anything in 2023 as long as they don’t restructure. Tennessee looked at their books and having traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles and cutting Julio Jones, had room for Woods’ salary.
The Rams have given a raise to Cooper Kupp and signed Allen Robinson, so their books are going to look a lot different than Tennessee’s.
Second, Woods tore his ACL in mid-November, giving him three more months to recover than OBJ. That could mean an extra two months of playing time, if not longer.
If OBJ was using Woods as an example of being worth $10 million, then I think that his ultimate result will be getting a prorated version of that salary because it is definitely not a 1:1 comparison due to the three-month time gap. On the other hand, the NFLPA would likely be pushing for OBJ to get at least $10 million, the same that D.J. Chark got from the Detroit Lions after missing 13 games with a broken ankle in 2021, because it could set a bad precedent if Beckham gave into a one-year, $4 million.
The more money for OBJ, the more money for some other 30-year-old veteran coming off of a torn ACL in the future.
The Rams, already paying $11.9 million in dead money to Woods, $17.8 million to Kupp, and $4.3 million to Robinson this year, are currently looking at about $7.6 million in 2022 cap space according to OvertheCap.
But they will have some accounting to do before 2023, as they could be over the salary cap by the time free agency is on deck next March. And anything that they pay out to any player for the 2022 season from here on out will take away their ability to spend more money in 2023. If the Rams give OBJ $10 million, even with two void years like the ones on Chark’s deal, that’s $10 million less that they can spend elsewhere.
How badly do the LA Rams need another wide receiver on top of Kupp, Robinson, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, and Jacob Harris?
Is it $3.5 million badly? Is it $7 million badly? Or should the Rams be willing to sell out for however much OBJ is asking for?
I think ultimately he signs with another team simply because LA is not in as good of a financial position right now as many of their competitors. I don’t know why he will be in a rush to sign with anyone until after we get a better idea of how these teams look after training camp and preseason.
He could get his best asking price after some other players are released and some other teams get desperate.