In the most memorable commercial of Super Bowl Sunday, when Eli Manning hoisted Odell Beckham Jr. high into the air in some NFL-style “Dirty Dancing,” the Giants entertainingly changed the conversation from the doom and gloom of 2017 to Blue skies ahead next fall.
Manning and Beckham were the two natural stars to headline the spot: the beloved face-of-the-franchise, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback restored to his starting role after a house-cleaning; and the uber-talented, A-list celebrity receiver whose brand has gone global at age 25, who is hunting a Comeback Player of the Year award coming off injury, and who tantalizingly hasn’t even yet reached his prime.
But do Manning and Beckham really engender the same affinity, loyalty and emotions in the hearts of Giants fans, who stood so strongly behind Manning against the organization’s mishandlings this winter, accelerating John Mara’s overhaul of the front office and coaching staff?
Or, faced with a choice of Beckham vs. the Giants, is the vocal pro-Manning majority actually the same group of fans that would prefer a faceless 53-man roster of silent yeomen and predictable stability to the drama, controversy and attention that Beckham— despite his talent and performance on the field — brings with him?
No one will know the answer to that question until Beckham and the Giants reach a public impasse. And it might never get to that point if the Giants, spearheaded by assistant GM Kevin Abrams, and Beckham, represented by Zeke Sandhu of Elite Athlete Management, agree on a lucrative, long-term contract extension quietly and soon.
But understand, while next week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis will train attention on the Giants’ draft scouting process, their No. 2 overall draft choice and the possibility they will select a quarterback of the future, the lingering incompletion of Beckham’s contract extension will remain the biggest story of this offseason until it gets done.
And if it gets ugly, while plenty of Giant fans own No. 13 jerseys and countless youngsters have dyed their hair blonde in his likeness, it remains unanswered whether the same mob that rose up to defend Manning will go to bat for Beckham over the Big Blue brand.
The Giants since Manning’s benching have cleared out anyone with the idea that the franchise QB was finished: Ben McAdoo, Jerry Reese, Marc Ross, casualties all. The firings of Reese and Ross, though, also pushed two of Beckham’s most obvious supporters and believers out of the building.
So is there a Team Eli and Team Odell in Giants land? Are they separate entities? Or is that commercial true to the preferred plan of both the Giants and their faithful, to include both players prominently in the long-term plan?
Mara put Beckham on notice when he hired Pat Shurmur, stressing he wanted Beckham first to meet his new head coach to discuss “how we’re gonna act.” By all accounts that meeting went well. Beckham wants to be back, and Mara has said often he wants that, too.
Beckham’s market value arguably grows, however, as the NFL salary cap rapidly expands and quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins are expected to fetch possibly $ 30 million a year in new deals on the open market. And Beckham, it can’t be said enough, would be more than justified in holding out until his contract gets done.
For while Beckham is due an $ 8.4-million salary this coming season on his fifth and final-year option the Giants picked up, he already lost one season due to injury and he will not want to get stuck in a franchise-tagging cycle that guarantees him no long-term security.
With his five-year, $ 25 million Nike endorsement contract with incentives signed last year, Beckham is both secure enough financially to withstand a holdout and marketable enough to demand the type of salary most cannot. And he said last year he wants to be the highest-paid player in the league. Don’t forget that.
Mara knew this was coming. Last July, when the team president reassured the media and public that he intended one day to pay Beckham big, Mara did qualify his confidence when asked how he would know the right moment to enter into negotiations with OBJ.
“When we determine that his agent is being reasonable,” Mara said with a smile. “And we have not had discussions so far, so don’t assume we’ve had any discussions so far. When we think that there’s a deal to be made, then we’ll make a deal.”
So when will that be? Beckham doesn’t seem to be sweating it. He rubbed shoulders with “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman at the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Sunday, was photographed partying recently with new Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton in West Hollywood, and on Tuesday posted a gift he’d received from fellow Nike frontman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Beckham is a star. And in addition to being a great player, he also is the Giants’ greatest recruiting chip in attracting their preferred young quarterback to the Big Apple — if he’s locked up long-term, that is.
If not, and the Beckham-Giants negotiations enter The Octagon of public appeal, it’s fair to wonder whether Giants fans will tolerate the distraction to see their franchise retain a talented player in the long run.
Or, if the fatigue of last season’s embarrassment will have the masses clamoring for the elimination of that distraction via trade, in favor of some more of the good old days of Eli — even if the truth is those days likely have passed him by.