SANTA CLARA — Odell Beckham Jr. is leaving the Cleveland Browns, and his official release Monday clears the way for his next stop.
His name has been linked to the 49ers since he entered the 2014 NFL Draft.
Beckham turned 29 on Friday. What are his chances of turning into a 49er? Not great and let’s look why:
So you think the 49ers are having a terrible season? Their 3-4 record qualifies them for only the 12th spot in the NFL’s waiver order. That’s not an ideal spot.
Beckham can’t sign with whatever team he wants. He goes to whichever louse wants him.
Here is who must pass on Beckham for him to reach the 49ers: Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, New York Giants, Washington, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons. Think every one of those teams is going to pass on a talent like OBJ?
WHAT THE 49ERS SAY
General manager John Lynch did not rule out the 49ers’ interest in Beckham when asked about it Friday morning on KNBR 680-AM, after Beckham’s release to alleviate any tampering possibility.
“What I can assure you is we’re always trying to make ourselves better and if we have an opportunity to do so, we will. I’ll leave it at that for strategic reasons,” Lynch responded.
KNBR host Brian Murphy followed up by asking if everyone should just stay tuned for once the waiver claims are announced Tuesday.
“Next question,” Lynch answered.
WHY OBJ FITS
No team has a greater disparity in terms of pass production than the 49ers, who’ve relied on Deebo Samuel for 46 percent of their receiving yards (819).
Adding a happy Beckham could spice up a receiving corps that’s had occasional flashes from Brandon Aiyuk, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings and Travis Benjamin.
A Samuel-Aiyuk-Beckham triple-threat, plus tight end George Kittle, could establish the 49ers’ most threatening receiving corps since, we dare say, the Rice-Owens-Stokes combo two decades ago.
In 88 career games (84 starts), 51 of his 504 receptions went for touchdowns, and he averages 14 yards per catch. He is a three-time Pro Bowler (2014-16).
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 5, 2021
WHY OBJ DOESN’T FIT
Aiyuk began breaking out of a sophomore slump, and Beckham’s addition could stunt that needed growth out of a 2020 first-round draft pick.
This is not the same Beckham that riveted New York Giants’ fans upon his 2014 arrival as their first-round draft pick, who earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors his first three seasons.
Injuries interrupted Beckham’s ascent, including an anterior cruciate ligament tear in October 2020, after core-muscle surgery in January 2020, after a 2017 ankle fracture.
Poor quarterback play, franchise dysfunction and overall malaise of his environment has sent his career into a tailspin. All his baggage could disrupt a locker room that just seemed to be bonding amid Sunday’s win in Chicago that snapped a four-game skid.
After missing the Browns’ first two games this season, Beckham rarely drew targets in the ensuing six games (three wins, three losses) and he’s yet to score this season. He drew two or fewer targets in four games. Otherwise, he had five-catch games for 77 and 79 yards. He had 17 catches on 34 targets, with no touchdowns.
There is a financial hurdle and that remains cloudy. Because his 2020 salary calls for some $8 million this season, the Browns reportedly were reworking his deal to make it more viable for a team to claim him, with a near-minimum salary of some $1 million.
The 49ers have $3.285 million in salary cap space, according to NFL Players Association data. Beckham is set to make $13.8 million in salary in 2022 and ’23.
Other playoff contenders lost star wide receivers this week: the New Orleans Saints (Michael Thomas) and the Raiders (Henry Ruggs III).
49ERS’ PAST INTEREST
Coach Kyle Shanahan, before a 2019 win over Beckham and the Browns, said: “Odell’s a freak, the way he can move, and his hands. People do not get how tough and good of a football player Odell is, also. He is physical and competes his tail off in the run game and pass game.”
No opposing player has drummed up more interest among the 49ers Faithful since Beckham hit the NFL scene in 2014.
The 49ers, ruled back then under general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, met extensively with Beckham after LSU’s pro day. But the 49ers top pick was not until No. 30 overall, and they were unwilling to ante up first-, second- and third-round picks to climb the draft board. Beckham went No. 12 to the New York Giants.
“He was graded as a heck of a talent by our scouts, by our coaches, by all parties,” Baalke told 95.7 The Game in December 2014. “… We knew in order to get up high enough to get a player of that caliber, it would have taken too much ammunition, and we chose not to.”
The 49ers tried trading in 2019 for Beckham, before the Giants shipped him to the Browns.
Lynch has said the Giants wanted two first-round picks for Buckner, and the 49ers weren’t going to part with the No. 2 overall selection, which they used on Nick Bosa to help key that season’s Super Bowl run. (According to NBC Sports’ Peter King, the Giants also sought a first-round pick plus DeForest Buckner, who surprisingly got dealt a year later to the Indianapolis Colts.)
BECKHAM’S MUTUAL INTEREST
From hugging Lynch before a 2018 game to hanging with Jimmy Garoppolo after a 2019 game, Beckham certainly cast the impression that he wants to play for the 49ers.
In his rookie-of-the-year season, he showed the 49ers firsthand what they missed out on, as he made an acrobatic catch at the 4-yard line in the fourth quarter of their Nov. 16, 2014 meeting. It took a goal-line stand by the 49ers to preserve a 16-10 road win.
When the 49ers returned a year later to the Meadowlands, Beckham produced 121 yards and a touchdown to topple Jim Tomsula & Co.
Once Beckham made his Levi’s Stadium debut in 2018, he reignited rumors of a potential trade to the 49ers, simply by hugging Lynch in pregame warmups. Beckham also went on to score two touchdowns in a 27-23 Giants win.
When Beckham returned to the 49ers’ home field in 2019, he had a cordial exchange afterward with Garoppolo. In that 31-3 win by the 49ers, Beckham completed a 20-yard pass on their first snap, then vanished like Cleveland’s chances. He followed with two receptions (27 yards), two carries (15 yards) and even a fumbled punt return in the closing minutes.
“They outplayed us. They beat us. Hats off to a great team,” Beckham said after that defeat on “Monday Night Football.”
He was right. It was a great team. How great will this year’s edition be, with or without him? Next question.