Over the last week or so there have been reports that the Giants have had conversations in regards to potentially trading Odell Beckham, Jr. While I’m generally an advocate for saving costs at wide receiver, especially when you have a first tier quarterback, the Giants are in a position where a) Beckham is what makes Eli Manning a first tier quarterback at this point in his career, b) Beckham might be the best wide receiver in the NFL or on the brink of becoming that, c) the Giants may be moving on from Manning in the near future, which makes keeping Beckham even more important, and d) I’ve constructed a potential contract for him that wouldn’t breach 9% of the cap, which is a very reasonable cost for the best receiver in the NFL. Also, if I have to choose between keeping Beckham or keeping Manning at this stage in his career, I move on from Manning.
First, let’s address who Eli has been as a player without Beckham over the last three years. As Bill Barnwell pointed out, here are Eli’s statistics with and without Beckham on the field over the last three seasons. Obviously, he’s a completely different player with Beckham on the field.
Like the above tweet, Scott Barrett pointed out near the end of the 2016 season that Manning’s passer rating is far lower when he’s not throwing to Beckham.
In 2016, this is the equivalent of Manning going from being a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers level player to a Trevor Siemian or Joe Flacco level player in that season. Simply put, without Beckham, the Giants don’t have an elite wide receiver OR an elite quarterback. Oh, and we’re not sure if they have a rushing offense or offensive line right now either. So what do they have on offense if they don’t have Beckham?
As Danny Heifetz from The Ringer wrote in his article “Hot Take: The Giants Should Not Trade Their Best Player,” Beckham isn’t just one of the best players in the NFL today, but he’s one of the best young receivers of all-time. According to Heifetz, here is a pretty stunning example of just how good Beckham is.
“Through 47 career games, he has accrued 4,424 yards, 313 receptions (14.1 yards per catch), and 38 touchdowns. Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, here are the players who had 35 or more receiving touchdowns through their first 47 games.
- Randy Moss, 42
- Jerry Rice, 41
- Rob Gronkowski, 40
- Odell Beckham, Jr., 38
- John Jefferson, 37
And here is the list of players who cracked 4,000 receiving yards through 47 games.
- Odell Beckham, Jr., 4,424
- Julio Jones, 4,165
- Randy Moss, 4,121”
As Heifetz points out, “even in an increasingly pass-happy league, Beckham is one of a handful of truly elite, game-breaking football players, and he’s barely in his prime.” Beckham is about to enter his 26 year old season in 2018 and it actually may be in the Giants best interest to lock him into a long-term extension now and pay him big money during what are likely to be his best years, rather than kick his deal down the road when he’s a little older. I’d rather have a big money wide receiver’s contract end after his 30 or 31 year old season, rather than his 31 or 32 year old season. Football Outsiders’ did an analysis of data that shows declines for wide receivers comes after the age of 30, so, when you can afford to, you want to fit as much of the contract as you can into the years where players are most likely to succeed. Randy Moss’ historic 2007 campaign with the Patriots came during his 30-year old season. He had 98 catches for 1493 yards (14.6 npc), and 23 touchdowns, which came out to 93.3 yards per game and a 61.3% catch rate. Considering his comparable track record to Beckham during his early years, do you really want to pass up retaining this kind of talent?
I know receivers are at risk of decline, every player is, but keeping Beckham within the organization will just increase his probability of success. They may have changes coming at the quarterback position, but if Pat Shurmur was able to get a 91 catch, 1276 yard, and four touchdown year out of Adam Thielen with Case Keenum at quarterback and an 82 catch, 1332 yard, and nine touchdown season out of Desean Jackson with Nick Foles at quarterback in 2013, I believe Beckham can still be the key piece that makes this offense go regardless who is at quarterback. In fact, if Manning leaves, Beckham will be the key piece that keeps the offense going with a young quarterback.
Speaking to this elite status, he’s truly proved he’s a first tier receiver in a way that few players have at the point he is at in his career. We already see how his statistics stack up against other all-time greats, but just from a “Caponomics” style of thinking from my book, a first tier receiver is someone who can be relied upon for 85 to 90 plus catches and over 1200 yards with the ability to score touchdowns. Simply put, a first tier is a complete, prototypical #1 receiver. You could argue Beckham is on the small side at 5’11”, 198 pounds, but so is Antonio Brown and their production levels are as elite as can be. The 6’4”, 220-pound monster isn’t the only receiver who can be elite. Over his first three seasons, Beckham averaged just 14 game per season, but had 96 catches for 1374 yards and 12 touchdowns per season. His 95.9 yards per game is about as elite as it gets and his 16 game totals come out to 107, 1534, and 13 touchdowns. These are the numbers that Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown put up in their prime, so of course Beckham is worth this kind of money after putting out this kind of production before he turned 25. Beckham’s 63.2% catch rate is very good for someone in his position that runs every route on the route tree well, so he’s getting some of the deeper, lower percentage throws. You didn’t need me to tell you he’s elite, but there’s the proof of it in numbers.
His only current comparable is Mike Evans who just signed a mega-deal, whose his 16-game averages over his first four seasons come out to 81 catches for 1201 yards with eight touchdowns per season. His 75.1 yards per game and 53.3% catch rate are much lower than Beckham’s and I see no issue with re-signing Evans with that kind of production through his 24-year old season, so I don’t understand the Giants reservations about re-signing Beckham other than the temperamental behavior he’s shown at times. When you draft a player of his caliber, you do what you can to re-sign him and keep him at a reasonable cap cost, which the Giants can do.
If they have worries about his behavior though, that’s understandable, but I don’t think the team is in a position to not re-sign their best player because of that with some of the issues seeming to be that he’s hyper-competitive and emotional. If you’re an NFL organization and you don’t have the tools to help a fiery, young professional football player harness his emotions, then you’re lacking leadership. You can’t lose out on one of the greatest talents in NFL history because he’s fiery and emotional, you have to help him harness that. It’s part of what has made the Patriots so successful, they take players like Corey Dillon who are perceived to have attitude issues because they want to win and they’re playing on bad Bengals teams, then they see them flourish for a few years under the leadership of their organization. They helped Randy Moss resurrect his career after issues in Oakland.
The other strange aspect of this trade talk regarding Beckham is that they already seem to be in the process of moving on from Manning and if this is the case, then the costs at the quarterback position are about to go from 12% of the cap to, if they draft a quarterback at #2, having a rookie contract quarterback under 4% of the cap. The savings at quarterback will be around the cost of keeping Beckham, so the idea of moving on from Beckham when they’re either moving on from Manning or keeping an impotent Manning under center makes no sense. I have a feeling the trade talk may be just a negotiating tactic with Beckham acting as if he won’t play if he doesn’t get an extension, but there is no way I would choose to keep Manning over Beckham long-term. And there’s little chance that Beckham sits out as, according to Joel Corry, if he plays less than six games his contract will toll and he’ll again be on the fifth-year option salary of $8,459,000 in 2019. Beckham can improve the play of Manning and whoever comes in after him, while Manning hasn’t shown he’s capable of playing at a high level without Beckham over the last three years.
There should be a conversation being had right now between the Giants, Eli Manning, and his agent, Tom Condon, that discusses the potential of Manning taking a slight pay cut to increase the cap space available to the Giants to re-sign the wide receiver he needs to succeed. Before getting into that, attached is Eli’s current cap hits for the next two seasons:
As you can see from that, Manning is projected to make $33 million over the next two seasons. (The prorated signing bonus is money he already earned when he signed this contract.) The extension for Manning that I’m proposing would be a pay cut of just $4 million over the next two seasons for him, but would clear $4.5 million in cap space in 2018 and $9.5 million in 2019.
It would tack on two extra seasons in his 39 and 40-year-old seasons that would still pay him $13.5 million in each year and the cap hits are a reasonable projection of what he’ll actually be worth at that age. The Giants could put more money in 2020 and 2021 to appease Manning and Condon, but even with $10 million in dead money in 2020, they’d still likely need to put themselves in a position to release him that year by drafting his replacement in the short term.
Now, if Eli doesn’t want to accept a contract along these lines and take a really small $4 million pay-cut when he’s already made about $198 million in his career, then it’s time to begin the process of moving on from him by drafting the quarterback of the future at #2. If Eli does agree to this contract though, it opens up more possibilities for what they can do at #2. They can draft defensive end Bradley Chubb at #2 or they can move back in the draft by trading the #2 pick to the Broncos (#5) or Bills (#12) if they want to move up to the #2 spot and get exactly who they want, rather than risk it by staying put. The Cardinals at #15 present another team that could be looking to draft a quarterback with Sam Bradford as the bridge. Miami at #11 is another.
Considering that the Colts just received the Jets #6 pick, two second round picks in 2018 (#37 and #49) and a 2019 2nd round pick for the #3 pick, the Giants could make a trade that makes them better at multiple positions rather than just one. Eli taking $4 million less could make the Giants a significantly better team and, considering they went 11-5 in 2016 when they had Beckham healthy, they aren’t many pieces away from being a contender again. This would also secure Manning’s future as him taking less money could entice them to do something else at the #2 pick, rather than draft a quarterback. Here’s the thing for Manning and Condon to consider, even if Eli has a good season, teams are going to know that it’s mostly because of Beckham as he’s been pretty bad without him, so who knows what his market value will be. If Eli has a bad season, he may be out of the NFL in a couple seasons.
Also something that must be remembered is that of that $33 million that Eli is projected to see over the next two seasons, he could be released prior to the 2019 offseason, which would mean he’d only see $16 million of that. So a situation where he takes a theoretical $4 million pay cut could really be perceived as an $11 million raise if he wants to think of this that way. It also secures him attainable 2020 and 2021 cap hits that would continue to pay him tens of millions of dollars to play a game he and everyone in his family obviously loves. Peyton Manning took a $4 million pay cut before the 2015 season to give the Broncos a little more cap space after making just under $210 million over the previous 16 seasons and then he earned a Super Bowl, so it’s not a concept that Eli or Mr. Condon aren’t aware of considering Condon was Peyton’s agent as well. There are worse things in the world than potentially being paid $56 million over the next four years, especially considering that he might not in a position to demand that kind of money considering who he is as a player without Beckham and him being 39-years old in 2020, the year he would be 39-years old. Say the Giants lose Beckham before the 2019 season and Eli stays on as quarterback in the last year of his deal, then has a year like he had in 2017. I don’t think anyone signs Eli to a contract that earns $27 million in cash over the next two seasons. I think it’s possible he’s out of the NFL after another year like that. This contract could provide a salary and cap hit that he’ll be worth in those years. In a sense, this contract is a way of thanking Beckham for making him worth even this much money.
Something that became very curious to me when going into analyzing the Beckham situation is that even if the Giants give him a record setting contract, they can construct the cash flows in a way that doesn’t overextend them at the wide receiver position. While some teams can have cap hits of up to 10.5% or 11% of the cap for a wide receiver like the Antonio Brown and Mike Evans deals Beckham is likely comparing himself too, he could earn a contract where he sees a higher signing bonus, higher guaranteed money, and higher earnings in the first three years than both deals, yet the contract for Beckham will never breach 9% of the upcoming salary caps.
So before moving forward, let’s look at the contract:
The contract is a five-year extension through 2023, so over the six years of the contract he will see $103,209,000, which comes out to $17,201,500 per year. That’s more than Brown’s current record of $17 million per year. It has $94,750,000 in new money, which almost eclipses the total of Mike Evans entire six-year deal by itself as that was also an extension built off Evans’ fifth-year player option. His $20 million signing bonus is $1 million more than Brown’s $19 million signing bonus, which also ties with Dez Bryant’s 2015 deal as the biggest for a receiver. The signing bonus, the $5 million roster bonus in 2018, and the salaries from 2018 through 2020 are all guaranteed totaling $55,709,000, which eclipses Evans’ total of $55,008,000.
But most importantly, over the first three seasons of the deal, three seasons of guaranteed money for Beckham, he will see the most money out of the three. Brown will see $48,912,150 from 2017 through 2019, Evans will see that $55.008 million, while Beckham will see $56,459,000. Beckham’s $29,959,000 in 2018 would be the most in a first year by over $10 million. So considering that huge cash in 2018, the Giants can probably stagger the payments a bit more and Beckham still should be happy. This will of course make later years slightly higher in cost, but the contract will still be at a reasonable rate.
(Post-script note: This contract also pays Beckham about $12.8 million more in the first three years than playing on his 2018 salary, then two years on the franchise tag, which would be about $43.6-43.7 million compared to the $56.5 in this proposed deal. The Giants could very well double tag him if he keeps asking for $20 million a year, which is $3 million more per year than the highest current receiver contract, which is Antonio Brown at $17 million a year. The Giants have no reason to pay him that much more than the current market, but this contract gives him $18.8 million per year in cash flows over the first three seasons, so he should consider something like this. If he plays well, he can come talk to the Giants about a pay increase and extension like the one Everson Griffen got with the Vikings in 2017 after signing one in 2014 and playing his way into more money in the time since. Also, he could get $18.8 million a year during this time AND play his way into a $20 million per year deal on a pay increase when the market is actually near $20 million a year.)
As I said before, I’m normally of the mind that teams should be finding value at wide receiver, but when you have an Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, or Julio Jones player, you’ve got to keep them and attempt to structure their cap hits in a way that doesn’t overextend them past 10% of the cap. Considering that the Giants can pay Beckham big money and still structure the contract in a manner that allows them to continue to build around him, this extension seems like a no brainer.
The only real question they should be asking is: what do they do about Eli? The real issue that needs solving is either an extension for Eli at a lower cost or a move toward the future by drafting a quarterback at #2.
Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.