How Beckham Broke the Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t trying to break the Browns, of course. And there were plenty of other problems during the 2019 season. But the OBJ trade in March of 2019 sealed the team’s fate.

When I first heard about the trade, I was baffled. “They traded Peppers, of all people? WTF?” That was the defensive equivalent of trading Nick Chubb. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The Browns also traded OG Kevin Zeitler, one of the guys who pass-blocked for Baker Mayfield as the rookie QB rose to super-star status in 2018.

It was a large six-player trade. The Browns got Beckham and DE Olivier Vernon in exchange for OG Kevin Zeitler, SS Jabrill Peppers, and the Browns’ #17 & #95 picks in the 2019 draft. Those picks turned into the highly-regarded DE Dexter Lawrence, and LB Oshane Ximines. Here’s the spreadsheet:

Browns Got Giants Got
Odell Beckham Jr. Kevin Zeitler
Olivier Vernon Jabrill Peppers
Dexter Lawrence
Oshane Ximines

Ironically, this trade hobbled OBJ himself by blowing a giant hole in one of the finest o-lines in the NFL. The Browns never came close to filling Zietler’s shoes in 2019, and Baker Mayfield spent most of the season running for his life. Consequently, OBJ put up mediocre numbers.

OBJ was hurt for most of the season, and said that he could not hit top gear. Olivier Vernon also had an injury-riddled lackluster season. So, in hindsight of course, it looks like the Browns acquired two over-the-hill players in exchange for four, count ’em!, FOUR! solid players. So, as of this writing, the OBJ trade is looking like one of the very worst in NFL history.

And it gets worse. Shorty after the trade, Bucky Brooks, in a prescient article, took OBJ to task for not participating in the Browns’ off-season “organized team activities” (OTAs). OBJ had a new offense to learn, but didn’t bother to show up for practice.

So, it was a multifaceted disaster: 1) The Browns made a terrible trade for OBJ. 2) OBJ’s celebrity presence amplified the reality distortion field around the Browns to a lethal level. 3) The Browns’ passing game was not broken, but they fixed it anyway. They fixed the hell out of it. 4) OBJ didn’t practice enough to develop a chemistry with his new quarterback.

But wait! There’s more! OBJ will be the subject of my next “red-flag” series for the 2020 season.

Note: the Browns later said that there were two trades, with one being a straight-up swap of Zeitler for Vernon. I don’t know why the Browns wanted to rewrite history, but here I went with the trade as originally announced and reported.

Watch Zeitler (#70) opening the hole for Nick Chubb’s franchise-record 92-yard touchdown run against the Falcons in November of 2018:

That’s what the Browns gave up for OBJ. But this wasn’t just any old 92-yard touchdown run. At the time, the Browns were 2-6-1, and suffering yet another abysmal season. But then went 5-2 to finish the season at 7-8-1. You could make a case that the hole Zeitler opened was the very beginning of that seven-game “Golden Age” of 2018. Not only did it establish Nick Chubb as truly something special, but it also demonstrated that the Browns’ o-line could spring him loose. No doubt that it gave the Browns a new-found confidence.