On a Tuesday night in Shaker Heights, Ohio, local police received a 911 call about a person running up and down the street screaming. The cause? Odell Beckham Jr..
He wasn’t the only one. All of Cleveland was roaring when the news broke that the Browns successfully completed a franchise-altering trade for the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. The move was so unbelievable that when NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo broke the news on Twitter, he had to reassure everyone that what was happening, was in fact, happening.
Some celebrated with fireworks, others with tears of joy. LeBron James gave <a href=” After the deal, the Browns’ odds to win the Super Bowl went from 25-1 to 14-1 at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Browns bandwagon is loading up and its picking up steam at every stop. Behind a gifted offense in Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and now Beckham, the Browns have officially entered unprecedented territory. They don’t just have a few good players; they have bona fide stars with the type of rare athleticism and moxie that make general managers salivate. With elite talent, comes elite expectations. The team that first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens took on just a few months ago looks a lot different than the team he takes on now. It’s no longer a game of acceptance and patience; it’s a race to the top, filled with championship projections and lofty goals. Stressing about how to keep a team full of stars happy is the type of predicament that winning coaches dream about. And there is plenty of reason to have confidence in the blue-collar, former college quarterback from Gadsden, Alabama. Following the firing of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley halfway through the 2018 season, Kitchens was upgraded to offensive coordinator and instantaneously became Mayfield’s sideline running mate. In eight weeks as coordinator, he didn’t just rejuvenate the offense – he reinvented it. Under Kitchens, the Browns offense averaged 395 yards per game and went nearly perfect in the red zone. Landry was throwing trick play passes 60-yards down the field, no-name wide receivers looked like big-name wide receivers and Mayfield threw 27 touchdowns to break the rookie record.
After officially being named the new head coach a few weeks after the season ended, Kitchens wasn’t bashful about where the Browns were headed.
“…it drives me crazy that people are happy with 7-8-1,” said Kitchens during his introductory press conference. “We all understand that it was an improvement, but under no circumstances is that ever going to be acceptable. We only have one goal here and that is to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.”
In a wrinkled baseball cap and brown suit, Kitchens brimmed with confidence as he made his media debut. His up-front approach has already earned respect inside the locker room and his savvy playcalling has turned Cleveland into an attractive destination for free agents. Most importantly, come training camp in August, he has a stamp of approval from the two most important men in Berea: Mayfield and general manager John Dorsey.
But even for a coach who has enough assurance to wear a bright orange Dawg Pound sweatshirt on the sidelines, Kitchens has a full plate of work ahead of him with this new-look Browns team.
At the age of 26, Beckham joins the Browns roster as one of the most talented receivers in the league. In just 36 games with the Giants, he became the fastest player ever to reach 3500 receiving yards. Through a combination of tantalizing speed and one-handed acrobatics, he has caught 44 touchdowns and averaged 92.8 yards per game in his career. No matter which way you choose to spin it, the Browns have officially secured Mayfield’s number one option.
In what has become the norm for some of sports biggest superstars, Beckham’s talent also comes with a polarizing ego. In an interview with ESPNamid the Giants 3-13 season, he openly criticized the coaching staff and his teammates, including the throwing ability of 38-year-old Eli Manning. Some of his more memorable moments at MetLife Stadium include a headbutt to a sideline cooling fan and a pre-halftime exit to the locker room. The tantrums, combined with some questionable off-the-field behavior, has given Beckham a reputation for controversy.
Whether or not you choose to blame Beckham’s outburst solely on the Giants dysfunction, he comes to the Browns with a heavy load of personality. In Cleveland, he joins a fiery leader who takes pride in not being a cookie-cutter quarterback and who has a chip on his shoulder that is somehow growing larger by the day.
The Browns have a team oozing with talent; which means Kitchens has alphas to manage and egos to tame. Beckham demands the ball – but so does Landry, Chubb, Duke Johnson Jr., David Njoku, Demetrius Harris, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, and maybe eventually, Kareem Hunt.
It’s a beautiful dilemma to have – but there is pressure on how Kitchens manages it. Distributing the ball, maneuvering the depth chart and handling the spotlight that comes with primetime games can lift talented teams or destroy them. Dorsey secured the pieces – now Kitchens and his staff must find the chemistry to make it stick.