One day after his father posted an Instagram video and several comments that appeared to disparage quarterback Baker Mayfield — followed by a “#FreeOBJ” tweet from Beckham’s friend, LeBron James — the Browns wideout missed practice Wednesday. A source familiar with situation told Yahoo Sports that Beckham’s absence was team-related, but declined to say if Beckham is now seeking his release following Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline. This development comes after the Browns were open to trade calls for Beckham but reached no deals.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski told his team that Beckham was no longer part of the Browns, according to NFL reporter Michael Silver. When asked to confirm that report, Stefanski told reporters Wednesday, "I would just tell you again. today he's excused and we'll see where it goes."
Entering the deadline, multiple teams told Yahoo Sports that Beckham had little to no market, outside of the Browns accepting a fire-sale option of a late-round draft pick while also agreeing to pay the majority of the receiver’s $8 million in remaining salary.
All of that was before Beckham’s father posted an Instagram video of Mayfield failing to pass the ball to his son during games this season, followed by responses in the comment section that appeared to feature Beckham Sr. blaming the quarterback for his son’s struggles. That video and the ensuing comments, followed by James’ tweet, coincidentally came before a trade deadline when the Browns were expecting to work the phones to make and solicit trade offers. Nothing materialized with Beckham by the deadline, aside from an avalanche of stories surrounding the video posting and a continuing debate about why he is struggling in the offense.
Should Beckham’s absence Wednesday represent an irreparable crossroads between himself and the franchise, the Browns have essentially three options on the table.
They can attempt to mend fences with a private meeting to clear the air over whatever issues are lingering, including the video and comments posted by Beckham Sr.
Cleveland could choose a far less-palatable option of deactivating Beckham but keep him on the roster the remainder of the season (while also paying him), similar to what the Houston Texans are facing with Deshaun Watson.
The Browns could offer Beckham his outright release in exchange for some of the $8 million he’s owed for the rest of the season. This solution could be a win for both sides, giving Beckham the freedom he wants (at least into waivers) while giving Cleveland the ability to retain some salary-cap space in the process.
It’s the latest chapter in a frustrating relationship between Beckham and the Browns. It first hit the rocks in 2019, when sources close to the wideout told Yahoo Sports that Beckham felt “lost” and was trying to “redeem himself” after an unceremonious end with the New York Giants. That messy season was punctuated with Beckham telling opposing players to “come get me” after games.
He was ultimately granted a reset of sorts after that season, when the coaching staff and majority of the front office was fired — replaced by current general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski. It was hoped the fresh start would kick Beckham’s career back into gear. Instead he suffered a season-ending ACL injury after seven games, leaving him to watch as the team’s offense took flight without him. That frustration carried into this season, as the wideout struggled with a shoulder injury and to find a groove with Mayfield, totaling only 232 receiving yards and zero touchdown catches in six games. The bottom appeared to be reached in Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Beckham catching only one ball for six yards.
It was a troubling performance for the Browns, and it placed more of a focus on the lack of connections between Mayfield and his presumed No. 1 wideout. The result was a round of speculation coming into the trade deadline that Cleveland would pursue trading him. What couldn’t be foreseen was his father and LeBron James stepping into the fray, leading to an awkward day for the team, and as of Wednesday, a practice that took place without Odell Beckham Jr.