BEREA — Quarterback Baker Mayfield insisted he would be open to playing with Odell Beckham Jr. again if the wide receiver remains with the Browns.
The Browns excused Beckham from practice Wednesday as General Manager Andrew Berry and OBJ’s agents discussed the three-time Pro Bowl selection’s future with the team, coach Kevin Stefanski said.
A breakup is likely, but Mayfield isn’t shutting the door.
“If he’s back, then we’ll work through it and do whatever it takes,” Mayfield said after the Browns (4-4) practiced for Sunday’s AFC North road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3). “I can put my ego and pride to the side to win because that’s all I care about.
“But if not, then we’ll roll with the guys we have out there, and those guys will know that I completely trust them and they’ll know that I’m always here for them. That’s the leader and that’s the type of quarterback I am.”
Early Tuesday morning, Odell Beckham Sr. shared a video on Instagram highlighting plays on which Mayfield didn’t pass to an open OBJ or missed him because of an off-target throw or miscommunication in Weeks 3-6.
Then Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, a close friend of Beckham, tweeted the following just before noon Tuesday: “OBJ will show again why he’s special. WR1 #FreeOBJ.”
The social-media activity had the look of an orchestrated attempt to nudge the Browns to deal Beckham to another team, but the NFL’s trade deadline passed at 4 p.m. Tuesday with OBJ still on Cleveland’s roster.
Mayfield said he has yet to speak to Beckham about the drama.
“I was probably just about as surprised as all of you were,” Mayfield said of Beckham Sr. posting the video.
Mayfield said he understands Beckham Sr. wanting his son to succeed. The QB added he shares that desire to see OBJ succeed.
“Hurt [by the Instagram video?] No. Surprised? Yes,” Mayfield said. “I think there’s different things that play a factor into it. I’ve had conversations with his dad before, man to man, face to face. I was pretty surprised by the video and the intentions and the feelings behind it. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But hurt? Nah, I’m good. I’ll be all right.”
Asked if he could forgive Beckham, Mayfield said, “Yeah, I think any sort of conversation could go a long way.”
Does Mayfield want OBJ back?
“I would take anything to have a winning team right now,” Mayfield said. “Our focus needs to be on winning and anything like this, stuff that gets created on the outside drama-wise takes away the focus and the attention to detail that we need to have.
“We haven’t been able to win because we haven’t executed well enough to be able to do that, and so I think a lot of this is frustration. It’s tension that’s built up because we’re not playing how we should be, and we want to be better. We want to be better than .500, but that’s where we’re at right now, so it’s time to look in the mirror and handle those things internally because nothing on the outside is going to help us. It’s only going to create drama.”
The drama can certainly cause a distraction powerful enough to wreck a season.
“We’re having to multitask instead of just being able to focus on winning, and that’s been created by something on the outside, so we need to find a way to [focus],” Mayfield said.
“This is a time for us to stick together as a team and not let anything else divide us, and that’s how I’m going to handle it. I was brought here to do that, to bring people together to win, and that’s exactly how I’m going to handle it.”
Mayfield said he is determined to bring the Browns’ focus back to football as the team gears up for a crucial game against the Bengals.
“It’s very unique,” Mayfield said of the OBJ situation. “There’s not a manual for this one. There’s not a handbook to navigate this besides talk to people, see how they’re feeling about it and just keep it open, because this is one of those things that, like everybody can see, it can be a dividing thing or it can be a rally cry.”
Mayfield said he believes he has the support and trust of the locker room.
“[My teammates] know where my heart’s at,” he said. “They know exactly what I do on a daily basis, how much I care for these guys. I don’t have to verbalize that specifically because they can tell that, how I work and everything like that, so I’m not worried about that part.
“To me, it’s about making sure that we’re just all on the same page. I want to hear everybody’s feelings about it. I want to know that. I want to understand if somebody’s going through it and they don’t understand the situation. We need to have that open dialogue because obviously this is one of those things where it wasn’t communicated well enough to where it’s gotten to this point, and I’m here for these guys. That’s what I do.”
Browns five-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry is a close friend and former Louisiana State University teammate of Beckham. Landry and Mayfield have talked about OBJ.
“We all want to see O succeed. There’s no doubt about that,” Mayfield said. “We’re just going to take it one day at a time. So we didn’t get into too many details because I don’t want to draw that line in between [Landry and Beckham] at all. That’s not what I’m trying to do. But Jarvis wants to win just as badly as I do, and that’s the type of focus we need to have right now.”
Landry and Mayfield have a good on-field connection. However, Beckham and Mayfield haven’t been able to find the chemistry they have sought since the Browns acquired OBJ in a trade with the New York Giants in 2019.
In six games this season, Beckham has 17 catches on 34 targets for 232 yards and two carries for 14 yards without scoring a touchdown. He had just one catch on one official target for 6 yards in Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Someone who commented on Beckham Sr.’s Instagram post claimed Mayfield “just doesn’t wanna get Odell the ball,” and OBJ’s dad responded with three check mark emojis.
Mayfield said, “Deliberately not throwing the ball to an extremely talented player that I did a lot of work with? That’s an opinionated statement. I’ll say that.”
Mayfield reflected on whether he has done a good enough job getting Beckham the ball.
“I mean, there’s been plays and things where he’s not exactly the first read, which we talk about spreading the wealth around because we have a lot of weapons, and there’s been throws that I would love to have back,” Mayfield said. “We talk about the Minnesota game, where it’s minor [communication] things.
“It is what it is, and there’s always things to get corrected. Now, am I going to focus only on him and force him the ball? No, because that’s not who I am, and that’s not how this offense operates. You saw that last year, and that’s how I’m going to handle it.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.