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Did The Giants Just Make The Browns Super Bowl Contenders?

In a sudden, potentially league-altering deal, Mike Garafolo reported late Tuesday that the New York Giants have agreed to trade their enigmatic star receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., to the Cleveland Browns. In return, New York will receive safety Jabrill Peppers and the 17th and 95th picks in the 2019 draft. Beckham will be reunited with his former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry in Cleveland, and the pair will give Baker Mayfield, the team’s No. 1 overall pick in 2018, a lethal receiving tandem to work with in his second year in Cleveland and his first full season as the Browns’ starter.

The trade definitively signals that the Browns — just a year removed from a winless season in 2017 — are legitimate contenders for a playoff berth, if not a Super Bowl appearance. (Yes, we just used the words “Super Bowl” and “Browns” in the same sentence without a hint of irony.) The Giants — seemingly rudderless under the stewardship of GM Dave Gettleman — appear committed to a complete top-to-bottom rebuild.

Unfortunately for the Giants, it is difficult to rebuild when you trade away your single best asset for less than what he is worth. According to Eric Eager at Pro Football Focus, the package of picks and Peppers that the Giants received in exchange for Beckham is worth approximately 1.85 wins above replacement over the next four years. That would be a solid haul for most players, but Beckham was worth 1.95 WAR in 2018 alone.

Draft pick value is heavily influenced by whether a team selects a QB, and the 17th pick would be worth substantially more on paper if the Giants were to select an heir apparent to Eli Manning — a decision that’s largely viewed as a no-brainer to everyone outside the confines of East Rutherford, New Jersey.1 The value of the 17th pick falls from 1.6 WAR all the way to 0.75 WAR if any position other than quarterback is taken. And that’s much more likely as New York already holds the sixth overall pick, so if the Giants do decide to select a quarterback in the draft, they’ll almost certainly take one there. Peppers, a former first-round pick and high school standout from nearby northern New Jersey, was worth 0.62 WAR a year ago — and has a cumulative career WAR of 0.53 when you include his negative WAR rookie season.

Again, compared with Beckham, who has averaged roughly 2 WAR per healthy year in the NFL — including a 2018 season with a zombie Eli throwing to him — there is little doubt that New York is getting the worst of this deal. By almost any measure of production — and at just 26 years young — Beckham has had one of the best starts to his career of any receiver ever.

Few receivers have started with as much of a bang as OBJ

Odell Beckham Jr.’s early-career ranks, relative to wide receivers since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, in various per-game receiving statistics

Post-merger Rank, Through a receiver’s…
Category per game First 3 yrs First 5 yrs
Catches 3rd 2nd
Receiving yds 4th 2nd
Receiving touchdowns 5th 4th
Adjusted Catch Yds* 3rd 1st
Approximate Value 16th 13th

Minimum 750 receiving yards per season.

*Adjusted Catch Yards adjusts basic receiving yards by giving a 5-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for receiving touchdowns.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

That production should have a profound impact on the Browns’ performance in 2019. The Browns are embracing the offseason with a sense of confidence that’s been largely missing for three ugly decades. Under Mayfield and interim coach Gregg Williams, the team won five of its final seven games, and it’s possible that the Browns now smell blood in the AFC North water as the deal came days after Pittsburgh Steelers star wideout Antonio Brown forced his way out of town and out of the division (with teammate Le’Veon Bell reportedly right behind him).

Beckham’s arrival in Cleveland has vaulted the Browns odds from 25-1 to 14-1 to win the Super Bowl, an increase of 2.8 percentage points of implied probability. These relatively short odds put the Browns ahead of the Bears, Colts, Chargers, Texans, Ravens, Seahawks and Eagles — otherwise known as the entire wild-card round of the most recent NFL playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Giants fell from 40-1 to 80-1 odds, leaving them with an implied 1.2 percent chance of hoisting a Lombardi trophy this season. New York has won only eight games in two seasons and has gaping holes on both sides of the field. Peppers will fill one left by Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who reportedly will sign a six-year deal with Washington on Wednesday. A year ago, the Giants passed on numerous quarterback prospects to select running back Saquon Barkley, who will become the new face of the franchise — probably one who will feud less with management, shed fewer sideline tears and pick fewer fights with kicking practice nets. The reigning rookie of the year, though, is now left with little talent to help shoulder the load in his sophomore campaign.

The man selected before Barkley, Baker Mayfield, has no such problems. Mayfield set a rookie QB record with 27 passing touchdowns without Beckham, and it’s difficult to imagine him not building on his breakout season throwing to Odell, Landry and promising young tight end David Njoku in 2019. Throw in second-year back Nick Chubb — who averaged 5.2 yards per rush in his rookie season — and it’s easy to see why Vegas is bullish on the Browns. Perhaps the biggest question facing Cleveland is if Freddie Kitchens, in his first full year as a head coach in the NFL, can help the Browns navigate such suddenly high expectations. GM John Dorsey has left him with scarcely any excuse for underperformance, and he may not be done. The Browns — winners of one of the wildest free agency periods in memory — could just be getting started.

Neil Paine contributed research.

Footnotes

  1. Quarterbacks disproportionately account for the historical value of first-round picks.

Josh Hermsmeyer is a football writer and analyst.

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