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How realistic is the Patriots trading for Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. really?

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Let’s dissect the rumor to find out.

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The NFL offseason is the time for rumors, and among the most intriguing one so far this year is the one concerning Odell Beckham Jr. and the New England Patriots. Let’s start at the beginning: according to a report by one-time Patriots low-level assistant coach Chris Simms, the club aggressively tried to trade for the wide receiver all of last offseason before his team, the New York Giants, backed down to keep him.

How much truth lies in the rumor can be disputed, but what can not is the fact that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke glowingly of Beckham Jr. in the past. “Good. Really quick. Tough kid. Goes inside for the ball. Very good after the catch and makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. He’s a hard guy to tackle. He’s got good quickness and good ability to separate,” Belichick said about Beckham Jr. in 2015.

“But I’d say the thing that’s impressed me the most about him is his toughness,” New England’s coach continued. “I mean he’s not a big guy, but he competes well. He goes inside, goes after the ball, takes a hit, hangs on to it. He’s a tough, competitive player and very good with the ball in his hands, not just going up and getting it. He’s got obviously a bunch of highlight catches, but when he catches the ball he can run with it and make plays with his quickness and his open field running ability.”

When going by Belichick’s remarks about the wideout, seeing his team have a genuine interest in getting him to New England does not seem unrealistic. But would a trade for Beckham Jr. actually make sense from the Patriots’ point of view? And how would it look like considering the cost involved? Let’s take a look at three factors that might determine how realistic the Patriots acquiring the Giants’ star wideout really is.

The scheme fit

Back in 2015, Belichick listed some of the traits that make Beckham Jr. one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers to this day and a player that would likely be a tremendous fit in New England. Combining quickness, route running, and an ability to make plays with the football in his hands, the former first-round draft pick might flourish when given the opportunity to play alongside a quarterback like Tom Brady and in a scheme like the Patriots’.

Friend of Pats Pulpit Evan Lazar recently noted over at CLNS that Beckham Jr’s ability to be effective on slant routes, double moves, and when lining up in the slot are three of the reasons why his success in New York could also be duplicated in New England if a trade would indeed take place. What also stands out, though, is the wide receiver’s football IQ and understanding of how to get himself in a position to be successful.

Just take a look at this play from 2018’s opening day meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars, that saw Beckham Jr. align in the left-side slot:

NFL Game Pass

Beckham Jr. (#13) knows the concepts run by the Giants offense well enough to patiently enter into his route and wait for the natural pick to set itself and clear a path for him. While cornerback Jalen Ramsey (#20) takes himself out of the play by staying too focused on his assignment, the receiver knows how to use this to his advantage and to get open for a 24-yard gain on the deep pass.

While Beckham Jr. runs only one in five routes from the slot, on average, his general knowledge of how to attack his opposition is on perfect display above. The next play, meanwhile, shows just dangerous of a player he can be due to his athletic abilities — from the straight-line speed to his ability to get open and generate yards after catching the football:

NFL Game Pass

The Giants align in a 1x3 alignment with Beckham Jr. as the outermost receiver in the trips formation to the right. At the snap, he quickly maneuvers his way through traffic to get open against cornerback Desmond Trufant (#21) — and due to his speed, the receiver is able to create a significant cushion between himself and the defensive back. Quarterback Eli Manning hits him in stride and Beckham Jr. immediately turns upfield to generate additional yardage.

His quickness to get open and cut up the field with the football in his hands is just one part of what makes this play successful, though, as the wideout also runs a perfect route to net get lost coming out of the trips formation or losing any speed getting into the pattern.

The two plays illustrate only a small fraction of what Beckham Jr. would bring to the table, and why he would fit well into New England’s offense. After all, the Patriots run similar concepts with their X receivers. Just think of how they used Josh Gordon during the eleven games they had him available in 2018: the team did not just use him as a deep threat, he also saw plenty of snaps on which he ran in-cutting routes. Beckham Jr. would give the Patriots a similar skill set, and there is little doubt that Josh McDaniels would not know how to use it.

The contract

Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers, and he is paid as such. Last August, he signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Giants that included a total of $65 million in guarantees. With the first year of the record setting deal already in the books, the remainder of the extension — which will not carry a signing bonus proration in case Beckham Jr. gets traded — can be broken down as follows (via Over The Cap):

Odell Beckham Jr. contract details

Year Base salary Bonuses Cap hit
Year Base salary Bonuses Cap hit
2019 $16,750,000 $250,000 $17,000,000
2020 $14,000,000 $250,000 $14,250,000
2021 $14,500,000 $1,250,000 $15,750,000
2022 $13,750,000 $1,250,000 $15,000,000
2023 $13,750,000 $1,250,000 $15,000,000

Given Beckham Jr’s status as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, his salary cap impact is hefty but actually pretty reasonable for a player of his caliber. To put the numbers into context, let’s take a look at the deal signed by ex-Patriot Brandin Cooks last offseason. Cooks, of course, was traded from New England to the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and subsequently signed to a five-year, $81.0 million extension.

With the exception of 2019, when Beckham Jr. would be on a new team’s books for a cap number of $17.0 million, Cooks carries a higher salary cap in each of the seasons left on both players’ contracts. As good of a player as the former Patriot is, Beckham Jr. can be put one tier above him. While New England apparently felt not comfortable keeping Cooks around with a new contract on the horizon, Beckham Jr. and his comparatively team-friendly contract might alter their approach.

Three more notes on the deal not mentioned in the breakdown above:

  1. The contract includes notable guarantees over the next three seasons. In 2019, Beckham Jr’s entire $16.75 million salary is guaranteed as are $2.75 million of his 2020 salary. He also has guarantees built into his deal that will come into effect in 2020 and 2021. Next year, an additional $11.75 million of his salary become fully guaranteed when he is on whichever team’s roster by March 13. One year later, on March 12, $12.79 million of his salary turn into a guarantee the same way.
  2. Bonuses are also a sizable part of the deal, with three of them coming into effect on the first day of training camp in 2021, 2022, and 2023: if Beckham Jr. reports to camp that day, he will be able to collect the associated check from his team.
  3. Beckham Jr. also has performance escalators in his contract which give him a chance to increase his salaries in 2022 and 2023 by $2.5 million each year. Those escalators are worth $500,000 for 96 catches; $1.0 million if the club also makes the playoffs. The wide receiver will also be able to earn either $500,000 or $1.0 million if he registers more than 1,374 receiving yards. On top of those, Beckham Jr. is also able to earn $500,000 if he scores 12 or more touchdowns.

The compensation

Top-tier wide receivers do not get traded often, but there has been some movement on that front during the 2018 league year. There are two particular trades to look at in order to find out more about potential compensation for Beckham Jr: the Patriots trading the aforementioned Brandin Cooks to the Rams during the offseason, and the Oakland Raiders trading Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys near October’s trade deadline.

Both the Rams and the Cowboys gave up first-round draft picks to acquire their new wideouts — players whose career output up to that point looked as follows compared to Beckham Jr’s:

Wide receiver comparison

Player Age Games Targets Receptions Yards Yards/reception Touchdowns
Player Age Games Targets Receptions Yards Yards/reception Touchdowns
Brandin Cooks 24 61 448 290 4,098 14.1 27
Amari Cooper 24 53 399 227 3,193 14.1 19
Odell Beckham Jr. 26 60 633 394 5,504 14.0 44

As can be seen, if Beckham Jr. gets traded this offseason he would be the highest-profile of the three players to change teams. While he is two years older at the time of a potential move than Cooks and Cooper, his production certainly speaks for itself and his status as one of the NFL’s best offensive weapons at this point in his career. Seeing the Giants ask for more than the first-rounders Cooks and Cooper created would therefore not be a surprise.

What adds to this thought is Beckham Jr’s contract situation. While both Cooks and Cooper were dealt while still on their rookie deals and with extension negotiations coming up, Beckham Jr. already has a long-term contract in place and is bound to it throughout the 2023 season: as opposed to especially Cooper, who is scheduled to play 2019 on his fifth-year option, the ever-growing market will not dictate the value of Beckham Jr’s deal for the foreseeable future.

While he could push for renegotiation once other players jump ahead of him in terms of contractual value, the basic framework for the 26-year old exists as of right now. This in combination with the comparatively team-friendly nature of the contract, could make the Giants push for the two first-rounders they reportedly asked for last offseason. Whether or not a team — the Patriots in this scenario — would actually be willing to pay this is a different question, though.

New England built its dynasty on the principles of value and maximizing it. Basically speaking, it works like this: having four players on $2.5 million contracts is oftentimes viewed as a better option than having one player make $10 million. A strong middle class when it comes to roster building is prioritized and has helped the club stay competitive throughout the years while also allowing it to stay financially flexible to a certain degree.

Of course, the Patriots did not strictly bind themselves to this approach as some of their moves over the years perfectly illustrate. Not only has the club made some of its players the highest-paid at their respective positions over the years — the club does compensate its best players, even though a popular but incorrect assumption claims otherwise — it also has invested considerable capital in outside reinforcements.

Take the 2017 offseason, as a recent example: not only did New England trade first and third-round draft selections to the New Orleans Saints to bring in Brandin Cooks and a fourth-rounder, the team also signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65.0 million free agency deal one day earlier. The two acquisitions were rather surprising at the time as they were noticeable investments by a team more known for its restraint when it comes to talent from the outside.

With those moves in mind, the Patriots going after Beckham Jr. would not be entirely out of character for them: if they value a talented player at a certain level and he becomes available at no higher price, New England is not afraid of making a move. And with the team having plenty of capital available — it is projected to own 12 draft picks this year, with six of them in the top 100 — seeing them come close the Giants’ demands is not entirely unrealistic.

The conclusion

The biggest question mark when it comes to the Patriots potentially trading for Odell Beckham Jr. is the Giants. Would the team really be willing to part ways with its most talented offensive player? Would it set the price at the two first-round draft selections reported last offseason? And how flexible would it be to alter said price, for example to take a player instead of a first-rounder? Those three questions will likely determine the outcome of trade talks between the two clubs should they ever occur.

Another factor to keep in mind beyond that is New England’s own salary cap situation: the team currently has “only” $17.91 million available. With star defensive edge Trey Flowers and left tackle Trent Brown both headed towards unrestricted free agency, the club would have to create considerable more space in order to keep at least one of their two priority free agents plus acquire a wide receiver with a 2019 cap hit of $17.0 million.

At that point, other questions would enter the equation. Would Beckham Jr. be worth what the Giants want for him? Would having him on the team be significantly better than having some rotational level players like, for instance, Dwayne Allen and Adrian Clayborn (two players who would save a combined $11.2 million if cut)? Would New England even be willing to part ways with one let alone two first-round picks if it comes to that?

Given his comparatively team-friendly deal, tremendous scheme fit and the Patriots’ history of acquiring high-end talent, “yes” is not that unrealistic of an answer to all three of the questions. And while we are at it, the one raised around 2,000 words ago therefore also can be answered: the Patriots trading for Odell Beckham Jr. is a realistic scenario all aspects considered. Whether this actually means it will happen is anyone’s guess, though.