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Odell Beckham Earned the Right to Be NFL's Richest WR, Both On and Off the Field

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 27, 2018

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham smiles on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Odell Beckham Jr. is graceful. Anyone who has seen him play football can attest to that.

He glides just above the surface of the ground when he runs. He looks like a hawk taking flight when he leaps. Ballerinas grow jealous when he extends to snatch a football with one hand. 

But Beckham proved that he was graceful—and graciousin other ways as well this offseason.

In the final year of his rookie contract and seeking his first real market-value NFL payday, Beckham didn't hold out or pout. He didn't issue demands or ultimatums. He stayed off the scandal blotter. Mostly, anyway.

Beckham reported for work like any other player, and he did his job like a model employee. And boy, did it pay off. 

On Monday, Beckham agreed to a record-shattering contract with the Giants. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the five-year deal is worth $95 million, with $65 million guaranteed and a $20 million average over the first three years. It blows every other wide receiver contract out of the water.

Beckham didn't get that money only because of what he did on the field. In a summer marked by contract discontent across the NFL, the player with the league's most selfish reputation (deserved or not) recast himself as its most solid citizen, the ultimate company man and the happiest camper in training camp.

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Before we get too chummy while patting Beckham on the back, let's acknowledge his days of punching walls, video contract demands and concerning glimpses into his personal life are not that far behind him. There were good reasons to question Beckham's maturity and commitment in the past. His reporting for camp on time and joyous dancing between drills does not instantly erase concerns that Beckham will get swept up in some off-field drama or a feud with a cornerback at the worst possible moment.

In fact, skeptics might think the whistle-while-you-work routine was just a negotiating tactic. They might expect Beckham to turn back into the NFL's premier prima donna the moment his new signing bonus clears his bank account. 

Odell Beckham has been an optimistic figure in Giants camp this summer with teammates and coaches.
Odell Beckham has been an optimistic figure in Giants camp this summer with teammates and coaches.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

But the guy who looked thrilled to be standing on a football field again in July and August did not appear to be putting on an act. The Beckham who told reporters about not being able to walk and his whole world turning upside down after last season's ankle injury didn't sound like he was pumping out sound bites to help the bottom line. The Beckham who young Giants receivers hailed as a leader likely wasn't doing it just so the coaches could see him act leader-like for financial purposes.

Beckham has changed, at least a little. That change made him in richest wide receiver in NFL history on Monday. And that change isn't about toeing some line or conforming to some cookie-cutter code of conduct, but about handling affairs with a little more grace.

There's a shortage of grace these days, in the NFL and elsewhere. It's not just that players hold out for more money and their employers shrug their shoulders, or that fans and writers take sides and attack each other like it's our money on the line. It's more than that.

There's a shortage of grace in an NFL where Jalen Ramsey trashes half the quarterbacks in the league in a glossy magazine and gets lauded for it as a straight shooter who tells it like it is.

There's a shortage of grace in an NFL where Tom Brady hangs up on radio interviews because he doesn't deign to respond to questions about his mysterious life guru. Then again, there's also a shortage of grace in an NFL where we feel like Brady's relationships are our business.

And there's a shortage of grace in an NFL that wants to restrict its players' passion for social justice because it might affect the cost of a beer commercial. 

There's too much rooting for short-term self-interest, too much focus on the brand, the balance sheet, the Q rating and the image, in the NFL and everywhere else.

Odell Beckham Jr., of all people, didn't get caught up in all of the territorial, adversarial behavior this offseason. He could have held out like Le'Veon Bell and the others. It even looked like the smart play financially: avoid injury, make the Giants miss you and hold their feet to the fire until they were forced to deal. He could have chirped to some men's magazine.

But Beckham did just the opposite.

Beckham chose not to hold out for the better contract he wanted and was rewarded Monday with the largest deal for a wide receiver in NFL history.
Beckham chose not to hold out for the better contract he wanted and was rewarded Monday with the largest deal for a wide receiver in NFL history.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Give new Giants head coach Pat Shurmur some credit, too. He took a clean-slate approach, took time to get to know Beckham and made an effort to clear the locker room atmosphere after the Ben McAdoo skullduggery. Dave Gettleman and the new Giants front office should also take a bow for keeping lines of communication open on their end.

But this day is Beckham's not just for the deal, but for his transformation into a locker room leader during the one point in his career when he could be largely forgiven for putting himself first.

Beckham's new team-first approach to contract negotiations doesn't mark the end of holdouts forever, and it shouldn't. After all, not every team can be counted on to negotiate in good faith. The deal won't bring civility to a divided nation. It probably won't even keep Beckham off the back pages of the tabloids.

However, Beckham's new contract proves you can be both the coolest guy in the room and Employee of the Month simultaneously. You can take care of yourself and still take care of your teammates. You can march to the beat of your own drum and still greet the boss with a firm handshake first thing in the morning. And doing both are the best way to get rewarded handsomely.

Ramsey took to Twitter only minutes after news of the Beckham deal broke and compared their looming Week 1 matchup to another storied duel:

It's a matchup we're sure to relish. Ramsey may get the upper hand over the $95 million man this time. He may even get under Beckham's skin.

But after Ramsey's summer of smack talk, there's no question that he's the Joker in that scenario. Beckham, committed to the grind but with a flair for the dramatic (and fabulously wealthy), is Batman.

And in the end, Batman always wins.

        

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.  

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