Reward not worth the risk of playing Odell Beckham Jr. in preseason

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants play the Cleveland Browns in preseason action on Thursday night. That alone should scare the bejeezus out of Giants fans after what happened when the same teams met last summer.

Stuck in their memory may be star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. crumbling to the turf after his left leg was bent inward from a hit by Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Beckham jogged off the field but later crumbled to the ground in pain once he entered the bowels of FirstEnergy Stadium.

Little did anyone realize at the time but this was the beginning of the end for what, at the time, was a promising season. It was never the same afterward.

That hit would force Beckham to miss a Week 1 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He was severely limited for an embarrassing Week 2 offensive performance against the Detroit Lions. It was the beginning of a disastrous season that also saw Beckham shatter his left ankle in a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

The way it all unfolded only further reinforces that there is little need to see Beckham on Thursday night in the preseason opener against those same Cleveland Browns. Or any time this preseason.

Coach Pat Shurmur wouldn’t state his intentions about playing time publicly on Tuesday.

“Every player will receive the consideration necessary with regard to the play time,” Shurmur said.

Beckham is holding out hope he gets a new contract before the start of the season. The Giants desperately need their top playmaker. They averaged 13.6 points per game without him last year. Risking Beckham against the Browns or any of their other preseason matchups would be irresponsible, even if the Giants under Shurmur are trying to learn a new offense.

After all, this is a player who missed the entire preseason and first four games of the regular season as a rookie in 2014 and still managed 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns ... in 12 games! Bubble wraps and cryotherapy seem to be better options prior to the Sept. 9 opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That should be Beckham’s first time back on the field in a game situation since breaking his ankle. With the memory of last season's disaster still fresh and while in search of that contract, this is exactly what Beckham said back in February.

When told on Twitter he shouldn’t play any snaps in the preseason, he agreed: “0,” Beckham answered.

The fact that Beckham is on the field at all this summer without a new deal could be considered an upset. Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald and Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack are in similar situations and holding out of camp. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities they miss regular-season games.

Beckham has been participating in live drills throughout the summer. His approach has admittedly sat well with the Giants’ brass in the evaluation of their star receiver.

But the preseason is a different, somewhat scary, beast. It has not treated the Giants well in recent years.

Beckham’s season got off to a shaky start last year. The Giants lost middle linebacker Jon Beason in the preseason for several games early in 2015. Bennett Jackson was lost for the season before September when he tore his ACL in a preseason game he started at free safety that same year. Key offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz lost half his season in 2014 because of a toe injury suffered in Week 3 of the preseason against the New York Jets.

The preseason is a dangerous/tricky proposition, and has been forever. Coaches and general managers have to balance getting their team ready and making evaluations with the risk of injuries. Most Giants fans surely remember star cornerback Jason Sehorn’s season-ending knee injury on a kickoff return in the preseason back in 1998.

It can happen, even though more often than not players navigate it safely.

“Well, I think we’ve got to give [players] what they need and, again, they’re all at different stages of being ready to play in Week 1,” Shurmur said. “So we just try to balance it and make good decisions based on whether we think it’s right from the beginning of the game.”

The Giants have already been cautious with rookie running back Saquon Barkley this summer. His reps were managed twice in a three-day stretch last week.

The No. 2 overall pick is being counted on heavily this year, but has yet to appear in any sort of professional game. He seems convinced Thursday night against the Browns will be his first.

“I plan to play, I think. I don’t know. I know I haven’t experienced an NFL preseason game yet, but hopefully I’m good to go for that game,” Barkley said on Monday. “I’m more than capable of playing right now. I’m just happy and excited that I’ll be able to play in my first NFL game, and hopefully I can maximize every rep.”

That’s the other dilemma facing head coaches. Do their starters and stars play, and for how long? Jackson was injured after being reinserted in the fourth quarter of a game he started. That backfired badly.

Starting quarterback Eli Manning sat out the first and last preseason games each of the past two years. Former Giants coach Tom Coughlin had him playing at least three games -- sometimes four -- throughout most of his tenure. That went smoothly.

With Shurmur as the offensive coordinator last year in Minnesota, starting quarterback Sam Bradford played in each of the first three preseason games. He came through that part of the season unscathed.

Manning has never missed a game in his career because of injury. He doesn’t worry about the delicate line between injuries and fine-tuning in the preseason.

“That’s for the coaches to balance that,” Manning said. “Our job is to go play. We have a job to do. We have to get better and be on the same page at game time. If Coach wants us to play, we go play and do our job.”

Sometimes with their fingers crossed given the potential dangers of the preseason.