Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways and leftovers from NFL owners meetings …
Odell Beckham Jr. had no idea he’d be traded, so when the New York Giants receiver planned his offseason the date he had circled for the end of vacation was April 15. That’s when the Giants’ offseason conditioning program began.
But the trade to the Browns on March 12 blew up Beckham’s calendar. Because the Browns have a new coach, they’re allowed to jumpstart their offseason program on April 1.
So some early reports that Beckham was rocked by the trade, maybe even disappointed with it, stem from some very basic human emotions concerning confusion and logistical problems. Beckham was vacationing in France when informed of the trade.
“His life was turned upside down,” said coach Freddie Kitchens. “Up until two weeks ago he thought his reporting date was mid-April. I know he wants to get there and he's trying everything he can to be there on April 1.”
After the dust settled from the trade, both Kitchens and GM John Dorsey said Beckham has projected excitement about his new team. The Browns expect Beckham to arrive for the first time by Monday. Kitchens and Dorsey are anxious to greet him.
Kitchens was asked what’s the first thing he intends to say to Beckham.
“Uh, I love you?” he answered with tongue in cheek. “Like, show me how to catch the ball with one hand?
“I don’t know. Just introduce myself and get to know him as a person. Ultimately that’s what we’re going to do with the Cleveland Browns … get to know the people. And then earn trust.
“They’re gonna always trust us. And I’ve got to trust him too. It’s a two-way street. And he’s got to trust his teammates and they have to trust him. It’s all about trust. I can’t say that enough. It’s trust and respect with us. People like to throw loyalty out there, that’s a term people like to use just to say something.
“You’re not going to have loyalty until I can help you do something. And as soon as I can’t help you, you’re not going to be loyal to me. But here’s what trust and respect will do – it will build loyalty. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Browns have not decided when Beckham will hold a formal introductory press conference, but it could come early next week.
Freddie’s big moment: You only have one chance to make a first impression, right? That’s why Monday should be a big day for Kitchens. It’s the first time he’ll address the entire Browns team as head coach – veterans and newcomers alike.
Kitchens said he has thought about his opening remarks but won’t have to prepare much and will speak from the heart.
“Generally speaking, it's going to be ‘check out of yourself and into the team,’” Kitchens said of his message to his team. “Everything we do is going to be about the team. Coaches like to say check egos at the door, but at the end of the day they need egos and they need confidence for one-on-one matchups. I'm not interested in them checking their egos. What I want them to do is have their ego after the team.”
The bonding process: Although Kitchens has never been a head coach at any level of football, he has a healthy awareness of his No. 1 task – to weave this rising collection of talent and egos into a team.
“Any time you add good players, you should be better on paper. But again, there's good players all around the league that are on bad teams, and you've got to figure out why that happens,” Kitchens said. “And it's because the team may not be it. It's not a good team, but they're good players. So at some point, we're going to form a team. And that's what we're going to do between now and September.”
Kitchens said the team concept will always be behind his treatment of players, especially a high-profile one such as Beckham.
“I guarantee you the most important thing to Odell is winning, all right?” he said. “I've spoken to him, I've talked to him. I know he's passionate about winning. He's not passionate about making great plays. That becomes the passion and that becomes the focus because that's what the media likes to put the focus on. And you should, that's your job.
“But in the same sense, he's passionate because that increases his chances of being on a winning team in that very game, or that very moment. Jarvis Landry cares about winning. Baker Mayfield, what do you think he cares about? You guys have gotten to know him. Does he care about the stats or does he care about winning? All these guys are the same. They want to win, because they know that their ultimate individual success is going to be tied to winning.
“We added a good player. He has passion for the game. I love passion for the game because I know that brings you from good, great player to elite. And you have the potential for that passion to go all over your team. And now we've got several guys with passion. Hell, I love them.
“You guys are worried about me [handling them], don't worry about me. I'll be fine. OK? Because I love the passion and I love the intelligence and I love the fact that it's important to those guys because you need that before you can build a team. And that's what we're gonna do."
On the crowded backfield: While a source at the meetings said the Browns are actively pursuing a trade of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah – perhaps for a safety or linebacker in return, more than a draft choice – it appears the team has cooled on dealing running back Duke Johnson, for now.
“I don’t know why it’s assumed that we’re going to trade Duke Johnson,” Kitchens said. “I don’t know why we would ever want to, like, just voluntarily give up a good football player. Duke Johnson is a good football player. Duke Johnson will have a role on our football team.”
While everyone assumes Johnson’s role will be reduced, the question of what happens with Chubb, the team’s lead back, when Hunt is fully active beginning the ninth game has flown under radar.
Kitchens said he talked to Chubb after the acquisition of Hunt.
“Nick Chubb welcomes the competition,” Kitchens said. “Nick Chubb is what you want as a player on your football team. And he’s excited about it. And let me tell you something: Nick Chubb can help Kareem Hunt.”