EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Odell Beckham Jr. sounded like a player who was done with Eli Manning earlier this season, when he was famously asked if the Giants had a quarterback problem and he responded “Um, I don’t know.” That answer, and the way he let his frustration boil over on the field, made it clear that he absolutely did.
So imagine how Beckham will feel if Manning sticks around as the Giants quarterback for another year.
It’s a situation that will bear watching if Manning does return to the Giants in 2019. SNY reported on Wednesday that the Giants aren’t ruling it out, especially since they don’t have a better option at the moment. And the 26-year-old Beckham is obviously coming back in 2019, since three months ago he signed a five-year, $95 million contract extension with the team.
So can the aging, veteran quarterback and the young, sometimes-diva receiver co-exist – or maybe even thrive – for another season? Or given Beckham’s past frustrations with Manning, is that a disaster waiting to happen?
“Here’s the thing about these diva receivers,” said one NFL executive who has dealt with a “diva” receiver on his team in the past. “When things are going good, they’re usually fine. So if you want Eli and Odell to get along, there’s only one thing they have to do: Win.”
That’s easier said than done, of course, since the Manning-Beckham tandem has helped produce a 24-34 record since Beckham’s debut in 2014. Of course, in that time, Beckham has become one of the most productive receivers in the NFL – and in NFL history – even as Manning has struggled and, according to some, declined.
But even Beckham has seemingly felt a sense of optimism the past three weeks, as the Giants have gotten some solid offensive line play for the first time in years. In their three games since the bye week, the Giants’ offense has averaged 29 points per game, and Manning has completed 62 of 86 passes (72.1 percent) for 716 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. That’s a passer rating of 115.2.
Beckham, in that span, has 13 catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns – pretty average production for him. But his average yards per catch has jumped to 17.8 after averaging only 12.8 yards per catch through the first eight games of the season.
So the last three weeks seem to be a brief, but important flash of what that potentially dynamic duo can actually do.
Whether that sold Beckham on Manning’s ability, though, is unclear. Because when he was asked if the last three weeks were a sign of their potential, he was remarkably unenthusiastic in his response.
“I don’t really know,” he said. “We’ve been putting it together lately, besides the last game. That’s definitely something to look forward to.”
It’s unclear why, but Beckham almost never can bring himself to praise his 37-year-old quarterback. And that doesn’t appear to be an accident. He was obviously frustrated with the Giants’ 1-7 start and the way their offense couldn’t get moving as point totals exploded all around the NFL. First, he seemed to take those frustrations out on Manning. On Sunday, when he questioned the game plan, he directed that frustration towards his coach.
Obviously that’s a problem. Pat Shurmur knew it when he tore into Beckham after that infamous ESPN interview where he indicated a problem with Manning, and encouraged Beckham to apologize to his team. Shurmur knows Beckham is emotional. He knows he sometimes lacks a filter. And he surely knows that Manning has been an issue for Beckham all year long.
But don’t forget that Beckham has 74 catches for 1,017 yards and five touchdowns this season with five games to go and his career-best numbers in his sights – and he did it all with Manning throwing him the football. Yes, Beckham said his production this season “doesn’t feel like it’s quite there.” He feels he has the ability to have a 2,000-yard, 20-touchdown season (for real). And clearly a part of him thinks it’s not going to happen with Manning.
But there’s no doubt the tandem is productive. And as the last three weeks prove, with better play by the offensive line, even the offense can be good. Who knows what they can do if that keeps up and they build a little momentum?
“I think we just started to put it all together,” Beckham said. “Unfortunately, it was during the time that it was. It was a little later in the season, but we all put it together now. There’s definitely something there. We just got to continue to grow it and develop it.”
What if that development takes Manning and Beckham together into next season? Well, Beckham will have to find a way to be OK with that.
And it’s a good bet that he will – if the Giants start to win.