EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn’t so long ago that, after a third consecutive losing season, this message was delivered from New York Giants co-owner John Mara to general manager Jerry Reese.
“Jerry knows this is on him,” Mara said at his season-ending news conference in January 2016.
The same might be true now entering the summer of 2017, only for different reasons. Reese has turned the Giants around with some shrewd free-agent maneuvers and draft picks. They finished 11-5 last season and made the playoffs. The Giants are even considered a potential Super Bowl contender this year by some.
Kudos to Reese on a job well done there. But it’s on to the next one, where the assignment is, let’s say ... complex and extremely delicate.
The most important issue facing the Giants this summer and moving forward is the handling of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his contract. Beckham became eligible for a new deal this offseason for the first time in his career, and discussions have not begun despite a record-shattering first three seasons on the field. This is the sticking point now that Beckham returned to the Giants this week for mandatory minicamp after bypassing voluntary organized team activites.
What shouldn’t be overlooked in this case is that the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald is in the same position contractually as Beckham -- remarkably underpaid entering his fourth season, with a fifth-year team option looming -- and the Rams and Donald have spoken about a new deal. Beckham’s closest friend, Jarvis Landry, is also entering his fourth season with the Miami Dolphins. He, too, was part of the 2014 NFL draft class, and the Dolphins have reportedly negotiated with his representatives about a new deal.
Meanwhile, Beckham -- while under slightly different circumstances given his outstanding three-year production, immense stardom and lightning-rod personality -- hasn’t heard a peep other than Mara saying it to season-ticket holders at a Giants Town Hall event.
The Giants owner said publicly the team wants Beckham for life, but the general manager in charge of the negotiation from the Giants' end has done little to prove it’s in their immediate future.
This hasn’t been well received. Part of the reason Beckham skipped voluntary OTAs this spring was his contract, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Nothing I’ve heard from Beckham, people close to the superstar or the Giants has indicated otherwise since the report. It became even more evident Tuesday that the contract was, to some degree, a factor when Beckham bobbed and weaved through questions about whether that was the impetus for his OTA absence.
“You would probably have to ask the people who do the contracts and stuff like that,” Beckham said the first of three times he was asked the question. “I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
He wouldn’t know if it’s why he skipped OTAs? Really? Who would know? Only Beckham’s agent and Reese?
It wasn’t an accident that Beckham’s 11 minutes, 30 seconds at the podium Tuesday included 11 uses of some form of the word “grow” and zero of the word “voluntary.” Reese was the one who stood at the podium after the season and said that his star receiver had a need for serious introspection after the way it ended with a boat trip to Miami, a playoff dud in Green Bay and then a hole in the Lambeau Field wall.
“This is what I see: I see a guy who needs to think about some of the things that he does,” Reese said at the time. “Everybody knows that he is a gifted player, but there are some things that he has done that he needs to look at himself in the mirror and be honest with himself about, and I think he will do that. We will help him with that, but he has to help himself, and we believe he will do that. He is a smart guy, but sometimes he doesn’t do smart things.”
It’s not that Reese was wrong. Most would likely agree with his assessment. Beckham has brought much of this upon himself with his actions. It's also likely a reason the Giants aren't ready to dump a truckload of money at his Hollywood home.
It’s in the general manager’s hands now to keep relations with his star receiver copacetic. Reese’s comments and follow-up actions (not even opening negotiations to placate his biggest star) leave open the possibility of that relationship souring, even if Beckham said Tuesday it was unchanged.
“The same,” Beckham said of his relationship with Reese. “Growth is something that is a lifetime. If you stop growing then you really aren’t progressing in life, so we all can grow as well each and every day.”
That was one of the 11 uses of "grow" or a derivative. Again, not an accident. It was a direct message to the general manager and the Giants organization.
This has the look of a situation that, if not handled carefully, could get contentious. The pressure now is on Reese, who isn’t exactly known around the league as a master communicator. He allows assistant general manager Kevin Abrams to do most of the talking and negotiating with agents. Many agents have never even heard from Reese about their clients.
This needs to be different. Beckham isn’t Shaun Draughn or Keenan Robinson. He’s the team’s biggest star and best player. He’s 24 years old, and in the case of his contract, needs to be handled with special care. He needs to be accommodated and kept happy sooner rather than later, because his only real leverage is giving the Giants a hard time.
This is Reese’s No. 1 job this summer and potentially beyond. He must understand that the Giants can't play around, and actions speak louder than words in this instance.
There is still time. It’s not too late. So much can happen between now and the start of the season, or now and next season. But this much is certain: It’s on you once again, Jerry, to make sure the relationship doesn’t go awry.