EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He was chatting about how his first five years in the league were a maze of mistakes, confusion, and introspection and how he grew into the 12-year veteran he is today that views the NFL as an honor. This was receiver Brandon Marshall on Thursday at the Giants facility wearing a fresh "NY" on his long-sleeved shirt that replaces the "NYJ" that he wore last season.
Marshall strolled from the Jets into a Giants culture that is as old-school as the NFL gets, impressed by how he has met in every corner of the place people who have worked for the franchise for a decade or more. It is stability that does not slip past him, another reminder of his newfound strength and how he has begun to use his NFL platform for social causes that matter and for continued personal growth that swells.
What he had to say about Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was instructive. Beckham, entering his fourth NFL season, is a lightning rod when he is present and an equal force when he is not. He is not at the Giants OTA workouts this week. It is a voluntary workout that Beckham volunteers to skip.
Marshall and several other Giants said that Beckham is probably working as hard on his own while away as the Giants are while present. Marshall recalled watching Beckham exert in the Giants weight room, an instance where Beckham was hanging on a high bar in an unusual way and then fell to the floor lightly on his feet, balanced, in a prance and stance that most humans could never match.
"He is probably the best athlete I’ve ever seen," Marshall said. "He has cool hair. He has the biggest shoe deal in history. I wish I had those things!"
This is why it can hurt Beckham and the Giants when he is a no-show to these OTAs.
If his teammates acknowledge him in such a manner, they all benefit from his presence — his high-energy, supremely athletic approach. Rookies would get the chance to see how he does it and get off on an even more proper fit. The entire level of the work rises when the best is among them. Trust builds.
The other factor here is that when you sign such a mega Nike shoe deal like Beckham did this week reportedly for $29 million over five years and possibly as much as $48 million over the next eight years, it helps to stay grounded in a locker room full of teammates who can only dream of such financial boost. It is a time to be as normal as possible, as inclusive as possible, stay connected, exude humility.
Marshall told me: "I think guys understand that something like that for Odell is great for Odell. In this league, players tend to realize, ‘This is my island.’ Most guys get it."
When you start talking about "island" and mixing it with "team," that is a toxic, defeating, unworkable mix. Sure, it exists in some level on every team, but the great teams, the great franchises attempt to minimize the exclusivity of players and promote the all-in-one concepts that build championship mettle.
Consider Seattle. Reports are surfacing now about rumblings that have been brewing for a while on the Russell Wilson factor among the Seahawks. Wilson talks a good game about being one of the guys but sometimes carries himself in a way that screams otherwise. I wouldn’t call it a schism in Seattle, but it is certainly an issue with complex layers that the Seahawks have been managing since he first entered the locker room in 2012. And if the Seahawks are not careful, the timing is ripe for it to explode this season.
Beckham is 24. He has accomplished rare feats in his first three NFL seasons. He has matched his on-field deeds with a tricky, successful crossover leap into pop culture. The spotlight adores him. He revels in it.
When critics seek to guess why he is not presently with the Giants, they look to his off-field endeavors. They wonder if he simply does not like that his Giants salary is $1.8 million this year and if he considers that not worthy of him showing up to voluntary workouts. None of that really matters; only that he is currently on his own "island."
He is not the only NFL player who has skipped his team’s voluntary OTAs. But he is the most pronounced.
The Giants have a superstar on their hands, a superstar among them, a player in their history that only Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, in comparison, is even close to matching. Taylor last played in 1993. This is a new day, a new time, a new set of circumstances for Beckham and the Giants to chart. Beckham has had his blowup moments. The Giants have counseled him. He has repeatedly made his own decisions about what he will do in his spare time. The Giants have counseled him.
Let a young man be a young man. Let him live his dream. Relax. Odell Beckham Jr., knows what time it is. These are what people closest to him preach. So does he.
There is merit to that. Unless Beckham becomes completely rapt on his own island.