Odell Beckham Jr.’s time in Cleveland has come to an end.
What started as one of the first major splashes for a team hoping to leap into Super Bowl contention has now ended in a contentious relationship between the talented wide receiver and the Browns.
Back in 2019, the Giants stunned their fanbase by dealing a player that looked to possess all-time great talent to the Browns as they started to look past the Eli Manning era and start to pivot toward the future.
Hindsight is 20/20, and now that the deal is three years removed, Sporting News is taking a look back at the deal to see which team actually came away with the better end of the deal.
Odell Beckham Jr. trade grades
Giants receive: S Jabrill Peppers, RG Kevin Zeitler, 2019 first-round pick (DT Dexter Lawrence), 2019 third-round pick (OLB Oshane Ximines)
Browns receive: WR Odell Beckham Jr., DE Olivier Vernon
The Giants received a lot, and in hindsight, the return delivered some solid talent.
Still, it lacked the splashy piece that would be expected when moving a star like Beckham. Beckham’s tenure in Cleveland could have been better, but when he left New York, he had a case as the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Jabrill Peppers has been a starter at safety and has recorded an interception each season. However, he has yet to perform like his breakout 2018 campaign he enjoyed with the Browns. According to ProFootballFocus, he received a 77.6 defensive grade in 2018, but has declined to just 64.3, 64.7 and 58.7 in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively. He has made himself a better weapon in the pass-rush — each season has graded him above 76 after two seasons in the 50s in Cleveland — and he has tallied five sacks in three seasons compared to just two in his first two in Cleveland. He is out for the rest of the 2021 season due to an ankle injury.
The only other player acquired in the deal was Kevin Zeitler. After a standout career in Cincinnati, he signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Browns and continued to find success there, grading at 81.8 and 91.7 in pass blocking in 2017 and 2018, according to ProFootballFocus. He was sent over to New York in the deal, but immediately started to slip in value. His first season in East Rutherford, Zeitler had a pass-blocking grade of 75.0 and he earned a 68.7 mark in his second year. He allowed five sacks in his two seasons. In March 2021, he was released by the Giants and signed with the Browns.
Next up were the two draft picks. First came Dexter Lawrence, who was drafted 17th overall in 2019. Lawrence has been a regular on the defensive line since arriving in New York and started all but one game in his first two seasons. Between 2019 and 2020, he tallied 6.5 sacks and 91 combined tackles, including nine for a loss. He improved from his first to his second year as he went from a 76.2 defensive grade to 79.7, according to ProFootballFocus. The 6-4, 342-pound lineman shifted over to tackle for 2021, and though his defensive grade has dipped to 71, he has become a more effective pass rusher, earning a career-high 74.8 number.
The last pick was Oshane Ximines, who has provided more depth as a linebacker and defensive end. Ximines picked up 4.5 sacks and had 25 combined tackles in his rookie year, 2019, as he started two games and appeared in 16. He missed most of the 2020 season due to a shoulder injury and while he has appeared in eight games, he has yet to start one.
New York might not have received any major pieces from Cleveland in exchange for Beckham, but the Browns also did not receive a star.
Beckham had seasons of 1,305, 1,450 and 1,367 receiving yards in his first three seasons with the Giants before he had a leg injury that sidelined him for most of 2017. He rebounded in 2018 to bring in 1,052 receiving yards in 12 games.
He wasn’t the same with the Browns. In his first year, he appeared in all 16 games, but had just 1,035 receiving yards and a career-low four touchdowns for a full season (he caught three touchdowns in 2017, but played in just four games). Prior to a season-ending ACL injury in 2020, he caught just 23 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Since returning from injury in 2021, he wasn’t any better as he had no touchdowns on 17 receptions for 232 yards in six games.
After four seasons of grading out at 80 or better, according to ProFootballFocus, Beckham has yet to record a season with a grade above the 75.3 he posted in seven games in 2020.
The Browns just didn’t seem to be the same team with Beckham on the field, either. They were 14-15 when he played and 9-5 when he didn’t. Mayfield became too aggressive of a passer as he tried to force the ball Beckham’s direction at times as opposed to just allowing him to flow into the offense.
Beckham was not the only player obtained by Cleveland. The Browns also received defensive end Olivier Vernon. Vernon continued his solid production from his time with the Giants into his career in a Browns’ uniform. Though he didn’t match his high defensive grade of 86.3 in 2018, he posted a grade of 80.4 in 2019 and a grade of 74.8 in 2020, according to ProFootballFocus. He racked up 3.5 sacks in 2019 and 9.0 in 2020, the second-highest total of his career. He also had 12 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits. He ended the 2020 season in Week 17 when he tore his Achilles. Vernon is currently a free agent.
Cleveland did not lose a ton of value in acquiring Beckham. Peppers and the first-round pick (Lawrence) were the biggest losses for the team, and while both have been solid starters, neither have been defensive stars.
In hindsight, this trade felt like it worked out for neither party. The Giants lost a franchise wide receiver and did not receive much in return. The Browns might have received more value from Vernon than Beckham during his first two years, and Beckham, though solid during his first season, has since been more of a distraction than asset.