OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After the 2020 season, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta referenced one of his favorite movies when asked how he would attract a free agent wide receiver to Baltimore.
“I’ll just call on a line from 'The Godfather,' ‘I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,’” DeCosta said.
A few years later, DeCosta essentially delivered his best Marlon Brando impersonation in landing Odell Beckham Jr. The Ravens paid a hefty price to lure the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to Baltimore, signing him to a one-year, $15 million contract on Thursday.
This represents Baltimore’s largest one-year payout to a wide receiver in team history by $5 million -- Anquan Boldin earned $10 million in 2010. This is $3 million more in total cash than what any other free agent wide receiver will make this year (Allen Lazard ranks second with $12 million from the New York Jets).
Beckham, who hasn’t played a game in 14 months as he recovers from a second surgery on the ACL in his left knee, will make more in 2023 than Mike Evans ($14.5 million), DK Metcalf ($14.2 million) and A.J. Brown ($12 million).
Asked Thursday whether Beckham’s contract is “a gamble," DeCosta pointed to Beckham's impressive performance in Super Bowl LVI in February 2022 (52 yards receiving and a TD on two catches), his huge games against the Ravens and his commitment to the team's culture.
"Where we are as a team right now, this was the guy that we felt could help take us to the next level,” DeCosta said. "I have to tell you, after two minutes [at the annual league meeting] in Arizona sitting across the table from Odell, I had no doubt in my mind that this was the right guy for the team.”
It’s been a challenge for Baltimore to sign top free agent wide receivers. In 2021, JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton both declined going to the Ravens, even though they offered more money.
During Beckham’s introductory news conference, DeCosta talked about how the Ravens have tried in the past to sign proven veterans who can deliver game-winning moments.
"Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes you don’t,” DeCosta said. "Sometimes you may not win that financial game.”
Beckham then interrupted DeCosta, playfully saying, "Did I hurt you that much?”
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, who doesn’t often get involved in negotiations, showed how much he wanted Beckham by calling and talking to him.
The Ravens wanted to make sure Beckham didn’t take his scheduled visit to the Jets. So, a day before Beckham was set to go to New York, Baltimore made him its best offer.
"We went into it knowing we were the underdogs, and sometimes it's a great story; sometimes the underdog wins,” DeCosta said. "We're thrilled to have him here, and we're thrilled for what this means for our football team.”
Last season, Baltimore’s wide receivers totaled the NFL’s fewest receiving yards and went 13 weeks without a touchdown catch. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the Ravens’ wide receivers made a combined $5.784 million last season, which was the lowest in the league and over $9 million less than what Beckham will receive this year.
Beckham said he hadn’t thought about the perception that big-time wide receivers didn’t want to play in the Ravens' offense. That perception was partially fueled by the narrative that Baltimore is a team that focuses predominantly on the run, including the rushing ability of quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"I just see No. 8 [Jackson] out there, and I know that he can throw the ball,” Beckham said. "We always talk about perception and perception versus reality, and there was perception that Lamar wasn't a passer, and then there's reality that he can throw the ball all over the field.”
The reality now is that Jackson has requested a trade as he looks for a new contract. The Ravens put the nonexclusive franchise tag on Jackson, allowing him to negotiate with other teams. If he gets an offer, the Ravens have five days to match or will receive two first-round picks in return. The Ravens remain optimistic Jackson, who does not have an agent and represents himself, will be their quarterback in 2023.
Beckham said he received no assurances Jackson would be his quarterback this season, but if he is, he doesn’t worry about the perception of Jackson not being an elite passer.
“I don't really take too much into perception anymore,” Beckham said. “I kind of just live in my reality. And for me, it was about being wanted.”
And the Ravens showed how much they wanted Beckham by the size of his contract.