Odell Beckham was sent home today by the Cleveland Browns seemingly due to some fallout from his father posting a video online about his son not getting enough looks in the offense. Reportedly Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski informed the team that Beckham was no longer a member of the team and GM Andrew Berry was meeting with Beckham’s agent which opened up speculation on this discussion. Since I am getting a good number of questions on Twitter about him and his contract I thought I would write this to try to offer some thoughts as to the Browns options and what happens now.
Beckham is currently in the 3rd season of a five year extension he signed as a member of the Giants in 2018. He has a salary cap charge and salary of $15.5 million on the season. Of that $15.5 million, $1 million was earned as a roster bonus when Beckham reported to camp, $12.791 million became guaranteed on the 3rd day of the league year, and the remaining $1.709 million is guaranteed under the Termination Pay clauses of the NFL CBA. Ultimately his salary is entirely guaranteed whether he is on the Browns or not.
Beckham can no longer be traded since the trade deadline passed yesterday. That may have been the impetus for the video if Beckham thought he was going to be traded and was then told that there was no market for him. It was pretty much a guarantee that Beckham was going to be released after this season (my guess is the Browns would have cut him this year or reduced his salary, but his injuries prevented his release prior to his full salary guarantee kicking in) and coming off two bad years where he was riddled with injuries would make him an afterthought as a free agent. They may feel that a new home would lead Beckham to recapture the greatness that he had at the start of his career with the Giants, however of a longshot that may be.
Because the trade deadline has passed, Beckham would be subject to waivers if released meaning any team in the NFL could claim him. The cost would be very expensive if that were to occur. If all of this happened this week the claiming team would be on the hook for $8,055,556 and all of the guarantees that go with it and the Browns would no longer owe that money. The team would also pick up Beckham’s 2022 and 2023 seasons which are worth $15 million each. Neither season is guaranteed but there would be $2 million in potential 2022 injury protection (and a smaller amount in 2023) if he were to suffer an injury that did not allow him to play next year. Beckham would have the right if claimed to declare himself a free agent after the 2022 season and void the 2023 year.
Given the large cost it would be highly unlikely that any team would put a claim in on Beckham at this point. If they were willing to pay the full contract I am sure they would have simply traded with the Browns for a late conditional pick earlier this week. So I would imagine that a release would see him become a true free agent. Beckham would be allowed to double dip if he was released collecting a salary from a new team while also collecting the full termination pay and guarantee from the Browns.
Since the contract is guaranteed and he can probably earn more by being released I find it hard to believe that the meeting between Berry and Beckham’s agent was about negotiating a lower cost buyout though I guess it is always possible if he is that unhappy. Most likely it is to get cooler heads to prevail on all sides but there are a few options that could exist for Cleveland.
It would be difficult for Cleveland to avoid the $8 million guarantee. While there could be an avenue to eliminate the contractual guarantee if they somehow could prove Beckham himself made the video it would not eliminate the termination pay responsibility, which would then jump from the $1.7 million number to the full $8 million number. To avoid termination pay they would have to basically prove that Beckham is not exhibiting a good faith effort to perform. Perhaps this was discussed in theory since many of the earlier reports indicated how Beckham was prepared to practice and wants to play this week putting out the message that he is indeed showing every effort to be on the Browns.
Going back to the conduct possibility the team could try to suspend him for conduct. I think that is also a longshot but he would lose $805,555 per week and the team could suspend him for up to 4 weeks. That would not be an insignificant amount of savings but it seems pretty extreme for a video basically saying to “get me the ball”. Players have said similar things in interviews through the years and not had that type of punishment.
The cleanest route for the Browns is probably one of two paths. The first is to basically redo Beckham’s contract to get him claimed. My guess is if he signed elsewhere as a free agent it would be for the minimum salary, which would be about $600,000 for the last 10 weeks of the season. However, you could probably get a team to claim him if the salary is a little higher than that. The Browns could agree to prepay something like $6.5-7 million in order to release him knowing that his contract would be picked up at that point and they would be relieved of the termination pay responsibility. If he does go unclaimed the termination pay might be low enough (and they could negotiate what that number could be) to where Beckham would not file since you are only entitled once to a larger termination pay claim.
They second is to just hold onto him for now, tell him to stay home, and then release him as his salary gets smaller and smaller in hopes that he would be claimed at a higher figure. As teams become more desperate, I could see a scenario where one playoff team would be willing to claim a contract with $3 million remaining for the last three or four weeks just to ensure he did not sign with a rival. There is no risk for the Browns in waiting if Beckham is cool with not having to show up to work. Similarly, they could just tell him to stay home for the year and then see if there is anything that they could do with his contract next year to trade him in 2022 or just wait and release him then. There is no dead money in 2022 if they release him now or next year.
In both cases this would take Beckham to agree to this. The CBA prevents deactivation of a player for more than 4 weeks due to conduct but as we learned by the Texans/Deshaun Watson saga that nobody cares about that rule if the player doesn’t really care about playing for the team. That would require an open discussion between the organization and Beckham before going that route.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.