Odell Beckham Jr., Josh Rosen Stung by NFL’s Double Standard of Professionalism

FILE - In this April 1, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns' Odell Beckham answers questions during an NFL football news conference in Berea, Ohio. The star wide receiver reported to the team’s headquarters Monday and is on the field Tuesday, May 14, 2019, for practice. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the greatest practice players I have ever watched.

Beckham practices hard. He goes full speed when it’s time to go full speed, and full-speed Beckham from a few yards away, making his signature leaping catches and shifty moves, is a thrill to experience.

Beckham also practices fun: dancing between reps to the music even the Giants began piping onto the field a few years ago, laughing it up with teammates, playing to the crowd a bit if there is one, keeping everyone loose.

Beckham is also a tremendous player in games, of course, but a different side of him comes out during practice. Whatever his contract situation, injury-rehab status or the Giants’ record, if Beckham could take the field, he was focused and engaged, energetic and upbeat: a true model of professionalism.

He made a brief appearance at the Browns’ OTAs on Tuesday. That was big news, because Beckham did not take part in the first round of OTAs or the team’s April minicamp, did not participate in Wednesday’s session and is not expected for the rest of this week’s activities.

Beckham’s absences shouldn’t be news at all, because April and May OTAs for veterans are strictly, absolutely and unequivocally voluntary, and superstars like Tom Brady frequently opt out of them to train independently and/or live their lives for an extra few weeks.

But everything Beckham does or doesn’t do sparks controversy. And the NFL‘s old guard is still full of folks who expect players to show up for a few extra weeks of work when not obligated to do so, in the name of camaraderie or old-fashioned “professionalism.”

The Giants rewarded Beckham with a $90 million contract extension last August and then traded him to the Browns in March as part of their offseason of generalized incoherence. Beckham’s sudden expendability, coupled with his boisterous public persona and absences from his first few optional weeks at the new job, threaten to reinforce his reputation as not a team player among those who seek excuses to think of players like Beckham that way.

The Giants, who look more like a Facebook group full of angry fathers-in-law than a football franchise these days, appear to have been among those going out of their way to be dissatisfied with Beckham.

“Ever since Odell stepped into the league with them, they felt like he was a problem, I felt like from the outside,” former Giants safety Landon Collins, now with the Redskins, told Ryan Dunleavy of NJ Advanced Media.

As for Beckham’s teammates? “We loved him,” Collins said. “Odell is my brother. He is not that kind of guy, or what people think he is about.”

Beckham can no doubt be a pill now and then. But there have also been times over the last two years when he was just about the least dysfunctional thing about the Giants organization. Yet he’s still the one getting side-eyed at his new job for skipping some skippable workouts.

Maybe teams and fans should worry less about the professionalism of high-profile players and more about the professionalism of some decision-makers.

After all, Beckham isn’t the only player who’s trying to shed a label after his former employer handled his exit poorly.

Josh Rosen, traded after the Cardinals made Kyler Murray the first pick in April’s draft, took his first snaps for the Dolphins this week. Rosen revealed on The Rich Eisen Show that Cardinals general manager Steve Keim never spoke to him at all about Murray’s pending arrival or a potential trade, and that coach Kliff Kingsbury waited until minutes before the Murray selection to call Rosen and officially fill him in. 

The Murray selection was an open secret and foregone conclusion for weeks before the draft. Rosen attended Cardinals OTAs and a minicamp as an apparent lame-duck quarterback for weeks. There must have been countless opportunities for a frank closed-door meeting about his future. The Cardinals opted instead to go into such deep denial that they had to scramble to arrange a trade.

Rosen, like Beckham, also rubs a segment of the NFL’s old guard the wrong way. Beckham is perceived as flashy and flighty; Rosen is looked at as entitled and opinionated about controversial topics like, um, environmentalism. 

While doing legwork for the 2018 draft, I noticed the same disconnect around Rosen that surrounds Beckham. Teammates defended Rosen, often vehemently, when asked about his character and personality. But there was also always some insider eager to tell me how much all of the other insiders loathe him.

This insider gossip becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the NFL. Players get reputations for being difficult. Teams draft them anyway. Then coaches and execs get nervous at the first sign the player shows of being “difficult” in any way: missing optional spring practices, posting too many Instagram pics, asking too many questions, recycling plastic bottles or whatever. Then the players are judged for breaking unwritten rules, sometimes by executives who lack the leadership skills to sit down a player who’s on the trading block for an awkward conversation.

Meanwhile, Rosen showed up to work for weeks in Arizona without complaint. And while Beckham is officially a “part-time” participant at Browns camp, he has been reassuring fans that he’s working out independently while making plans to host a Cleveland-area youth camp. What a bad apple.

After attending weeks of offseason minicamps, Josh Rosen was given a few minutes' notice that the Cardinals were drafting his successor a year after they drafted him.

After attending weeks of offseason minicamps, Josh Rosen was given a few minutes’ notice that the Cardinals were drafting his successor a year after they drafted him.Matt York/Associated Press/Associated Press

Smart organizations are starting to see past both antiquated attitudes toward modern players and the wisdom of the gossipy coffee klatch. A team that learns to work with players like him, Rosen, Antonio Brown, Baker Mayfield, politically outspoken guys or other “troublemakers” can end up acquiring special talent, often at a discount, from some team that isn’t really sure what it wants.

The Browns appear to be turning into one of those smart teams. Freddie Kitchens would prefer to have Beckham at OTAs every day, but, per NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, the coach concedes that it’s best for Beckham to attend when he can “present his best self, emotionally and physically.” 

The Browns and their fans will have to wait for more than just a brief glimpse of Beckham at practice. But they will like what they see, and Beckham skeptics will be pleasantly surprised.

As for folks who seek to stir up controversy about someone’s unprofessional actions: They may want to look around at some NFL front offices instead.


Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@MikeTanier.

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