At the Los Angeles Rams’ training facility, three aisles of lockers are visible from the entrance.
Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s cubby rests among the first group; quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp are each at home in the second. Cleats, tape and snacks scatter across seats and the floor.
Through the nine weeks of the 2022 NFL season, one cubby, smack in the middle of the left row on the aisle nearest the room entrance, has remained empty.
Its nameplate reads: “ODELL BECKHAM JR.”
After Sunday, the locker seems increasingly doomed to season-long vacancy.
This is not a referendum on Beckham, whose recovery from a torn ACL could conclude in mere days. Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Beckham is “expected to be fully cleared in the next week.”
But as Beckham nears the time to choose where he’ll play next, he might have watched the Rams’ latest game and asked himself: Is this really it?
The Rams were competitive against the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holding a lead for more than 20 minutes to Tampa’s mere 2:02. But even at 45 years old, Tom Brady fears no lead. And the Bucs quarterback, in arguably his best performance this season, drove 54 yards in 35 seconds to score a go-ahead, game-winning touchdown with 9 seconds remaining. Even the seven-time Super Bowl champion admitted the save was “f***ing awesome.” The Rams lost 16-13 to a fellow sub-.500 team.
It’s a loss that threatens their viability in two races: the postseason and the Beckham pursuit.
The Rams are sputtering at the wrong time
First, let’s consider the Rams’ increasingly unlikely chance to make much less advance in the playoffs less than a year removed from their Super Bowl victory.
The Rams’ postseason chances plummeted Sunday to just 15%, per FiveThirtyEight's predictive model, down significantly even from the 33% clip with which they entered this weekend. The Seattle Seahawks hold a 2.5-game lead on the Rams. The San Francisco 49ers, who spent Week 9 on a bye, are now a game ahead of them as well. Further punishing to Los Angeles: The Niners won a head-to-head with the Rams. That was before they added multipurpose weapon Christian McCaffrey, who helped complete a regular-season sweep of Los Angeles.
McVay and Co. best beware because Beckham, it’s believed around the league, seeks a playoff contender for his next home. Why wouldn’t he? He turned 30 years old Saturday. He understands, coming off his second left ACL rehabilitation in under two years, how fleeting and risky this game can be. And he has proven, too, after contributing 593 yards and seven touchdowns in just 12 combined regular-season and postseason games with the Rams last season, that he can help a team over the hump to the Lombardi Trophy.
Even in the Super Bowl game in which he tore his ACL, Beckham contributed 52 yards and a touchdown before he exited.
So while the Rams may still want him — head coach Sean McVay mentioned “different players” Sunday night as a potential solution to his team’s recent skid — would Beckham want to join a team with a scant chance at a playoff run?
Imagine if he were watching McVay’s news conference after Sunday’s loss.
“A sick feeling,” McVay said of his team’s 13-point outing. “Clearly offensively not even close to good enough.”
The Rams converted just 4-of-13 third-down attempts and scored just one touchdown on a 69-yard catch-and-go from Kupp that Bucs head coach Todd Bowles later confirmed was a coverage bust. Excluding that stellar play, Stafford completed 12-of-26 (46.2%) attempts for 96 yards. The Rams’ 68 rushing yards hovered right around their season average, which ranks second-worst in the league.
The offense, on balance, is not working. And while offensive-line injuries no doubt contribute and McVay deserves credit for his accountability, will either of those mitigating factors, even with the scheme familiarity and Lombardi memory, outweigh the host of reasons why a free agent wouldn’t want to join the Rams right now?
“I don’t necessarily think it’s the panic button,” McVay said. “But changes have to be made. Adjustments have to be made. We can’t continue to go on like this.”
Any change seems unlikely to take the shape of Beckham’s return.
Which brings us to perhaps fans’ more pressing questions: Where will Beckham go?
Top landing spots for Beckham
Enter the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants as attractive options.
Each team, to start, has at least a 75% chance to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight. The Chiefs, Bills and Cowboys each hover above 95%. For Beckham, who could make his return in late November or December, that augments the number of games he could realistically contribute in. He should have the chance to play into at least January with meaningful stakes on the line.
Next come the weapons he joins.
The Chiefs, after trading the league’s current top receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, know they can improve offensive efficiency. They added former Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster in the offseason and the Giants’ Kadarius Toney before last week’s trade deadline. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, unsurprisingly, has still found rhythm with 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions entering Sunday. No doubt Beckham could dream of how Mahomes’ rare arm and Andy Reid’s creative play-calling would unlock success in his next act.
Buffalo, too, has a powerful dual-threat quarterback in Josh Allen and, along with the Philadelphia Eagles, a strong case for the league’s most complete team. Fellow Rams 2021 trade acquisition Von Miller has lobbied for Beckham to follow him to upstate New York. And the Bills might seek another reliable playmaker after consecutive weeks in which Allen has thrown two interceptions. But would Beckham find the opportunity he seeks when Allen already can look to Stefon Diggs (857 yards/seven TDs), Gabriel Davis (451/4), Isaiah McKenzie (182/3) and his own legs (306/2)?
The Cowboys offer a 6-2 team with quarterback Dak Prescott hitting a stride after a five-game rehabilitation to his Week 1 thumb fracture. Prescott last completed 21-of-27 passes for two touchdowns and an interception against the Detroit Lions, who reminded Aaron Rodgers on Sunday the threat their defense can pose. The Cowboys’ receiver group lost Amari Cooper (traded to Browns) and Cedrick Wilson (left in free agency for Dolphins) this past offseason, and their replacements have yet to star. Veteran free agent James Washington hasn’t played a snap after fracturing his foot in training camp, while third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert’s slower-than-expected development has limited him to just 52 offensive snaps (10.4%) and two targets in eight weeks. Team owner/general manager Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones have indicated in recent weeks that they will pursue talent beyond the trade market. Perhaps the biggest deterrent to Beckham signing with the Cowboys: Can Dallas overcome the playoff futility that has followed productive regular seasons? The Cowboys’ last NFC championship game appearance followed the 1995 season.
The Giants, lastly, offer a landing spot so unique that Beckham will likely either love it or leave it without some of the murky waters the previous suitors present. Does Beckham want to return to the home of his first five career years, the place where he became a three-time Pro Bowler adept at one-handed catches though also, toward the end, flashed his capacity as a diva? Does Beckham appreciate the Giants’ seemingly vastly improved coaching and front-office structures relative to his last stint on their roster? Or does he see that, even with quarterback Daniel Jones’ improvement this season, the offense is a work in progress led by a quarterback less talented than those on other interested teams? First-year head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen may view an acquisition like Beckham’s somewhat premature ahead of Jones and running back Saquon Barkley hitting free agency this offseason. But the Giants' passing game could use their long-lost friend.
(Some in the league believe the Green Bay Packers would be interested in Beckham, but Sunday’s loss to the Lions, featuring three Rodgers’ interceptions and his first career two-red zone-interception performance, should be all the reality necessary to ground that wish.)
It’s too soon to say where Beckham will land. Perhaps this week, as Glazer reported, Beckham’s medical clearance will arrive and clarity on his landing spot will subsequently settle.
The suitors, for now, appear many.
But what became clearer Sunday: The Rams will face an uphill battle.
“Tough pill to swallow,” McVay said, summarizing the Rams’ current outlook.
And perhaps not their last.