On Thursday, the Ravens finally signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. All it took was a $15 million deal, some recruiting by their owner, footage from a private workout, faith in an uncertain quarterback situation, and the patience to see through a high-profile pursuit that had started six months earlier.
“It was really a whirlwind for us,” executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta said at Beckham’s introductory news conference.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time,” said Beckham, who last played in a game 14 months ago, “to get back on the field.”
Over a nearly 40-minute session with reporters, Beckham, DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh explained the winding path that took the three-time Pro Bowl selection from Los Angeles to free agency to Baltimore, from a second significant knee surgery to an encouraging rehabilitation.
“The perfect player at the perfect time,” DeCosta said of Beckham. Both sides had certainly waited long enough. Here’s how they found themselves united at last.
After a difficult start to the season in Cleveland, where his relationship with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield had all but deteriorated, Beckham was released. He signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams worth up to $4.3 million.
Not long after joining the Rams, Beckham remembered team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, telling him, “You don’t have an ACL.” Beckham had torn the ligament in his left knee a year earlier and undergone surgery. At some point, he would need a revision surgery.
“I just told him, ‘I’ve been through way too much to come here and sign. There was way too much talk on my name the past year. I came here to help win the championship,’” Beckham said. “I told him I would die on the sword, and that was just the kind of reference that I used. I just cared that much about playing.”
Beckham tore his ACL again on a noncontact play during the second quarter of the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Before leaving the game, he’d recorded two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, continuing a torrid postseason run. DeCosta said he was the best player on the field.
“One quote I’ve always lived by is, ‘You’re only as good as your last game,’” Beckham said. “It can be up for debate, but I think I was well on the way to being MVP in that game. It’s just the type of mentality that I have; it’s in my heart since I was a kid. I’m not worried about coming back from this because I’ve come back before.”
After celebrating with the Rams in their Super Bowl victory parade, Beckham underwent his second knee operation in 15 months.
“I got one [Super Bowl] ring, and it was a bittersweet champagne,” he said. “I remember having talks with God, and he was just like, ‘I know it wasn’t exactly what you wanted; I know it was bittersweet.’ He was like, ‘Next time that you get to taste that champagne, it will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted.’”
The Ravens reached out to Beckham, a free agent who was reportedly targeting a mid-November return to action.
“This has been something that’s been really percolating over the past year,” DeCosta said.
At his introductory news conference, new Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken called Beckham a “tremendously skilled” player he liked “a lot.” Beckham had 1,035 receiving yards in Cleveland in 2019, when Monken was the Browns’ offensive coordinator, his last 1,000-yard season.
“We had a great relationship in Cleveland,” Beckham said. “We had great rapport there, great communication. I remember him and I trying to really figure out what’s going on and bring everyone together. So I have nothing but love for him. I got to watch what he did at Georgia, watched the success he had. Just excited about the opportunity that’s in front of me and just kind of watching that offense and seeing what was done, I just know that it should be a lot of fun.”
After ultimately sitting out all of the 2022 season, Beckham held a private workout in Arizona for NFL teams ahead of the start of free agency. The Ravens, represented by assistant wide receivers coach Keith Williams, were among a handful of teams on hand.
“We just wanted to see, number one, how does he move?” said DeCosta, adding that team officials reviewed footage of the workout four times. “Body control, all the things we look for in any player, really. How’s he catching the ball? How’s he adjusting to the ball? Just mechanically, is he able to drop his weight? [Does he have] burst, quickness, speed, agility, conditioning, as well? Obviously, [it was] a controlled environment, but we saw everything we needed to see, knowing that it’s going to just improve.
“That’s the thing — when a guy has a serious injury, in general, it only gets better. It may take time; sometimes it takes longer, but it only gets better. What we saw was extremely encouraging, and I can’t wait to see the progression from March to April to May to September. That’s probably the thing that we’re most excited about. We’re getting somebody who’s ready to explode again, and he’s in the right environment with the right quarterback, with the right team, in the right city.”
Beckham arrived at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix and met with officials from the Ravens and New York Jets, his top two suitors. Harbaugh said he was “struck by his [Beckham’s] straightforwardness and honesty” during the process.
“He was very much an open book in terms of what he was thinking, what he wanted to do, where he was going,” Harbaugh said. “Not trying to sell anything or talk about anything other than, ‘This is really where I’m at. This is what I’m thinking,’ asking where we’re at. Just those kinds of conversations, kind of culminating in Phoenix, when we had a chance to be face to face and just kind of connect in that way. It was really easy, and normal and natural.”
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti reached out to Beckham as he was closing in on a decision. At one point, Beckham said he was so excited that he texted his agent, “I want to be a Raven.” Bisciotti’s involvement, Beckham said, was “what set it over the edge.”
“We just chopped it up as two men talking,” he said. “It wasn’t so much the business side and everything that was going on. … He made me feel wanted. He made me feel like somebody wants me to be here, wants me to be great, wants me to be a part of this team and this organization. And at this point in my life, that’s everything I need, is to be wanted, and that’s pretty much the story for me. And again, that allows me to come here and put my hard hat on every single day and know that these guys believed in me; not to say that no one else did, but they believed in me.”
The Ravens offered Beckham a one-year, $15 million deal, with $3 million available in incentives. The Jets, who were set to host Beckham on a visit starting Sunday night, reportedly declined to match the offer.
Beckham announced on Instagram that he was joining the Ravens. He later FaceTimed with quarterback Lamar Jackson, who only weeks earlier had announced his trade request. Beckham said Jackson “was excited about the opportunity to be able to get to work [in Baltimore], if that does present itself,” but said the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player made no assurances about his 2023 plans.
“Life is uncertain; I think that we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the next day,” Beckham said. “We only know what’s happened in the past, so to me, it was just excitement about the possibility of that. My thoughts would be that he would be here. I know that these two [DeCosta and Harbaugh] want him to be here. At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to them.”
Beckham signed his one-year contract and said he feels “great” physically, though he’s unsure whether he’ll attend organized team activities or mandatory minicamp.
“I’m still in my process of getting ready for September, because we don’t play tomorrow, we don’t play a week from now, a month from now; we play in September, so it’s about getting ready for that, being in the best physical shape I can be, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all that,” he said. “My most important thing and focus this year is only about this year. That’s the only thing on my mind; [I’m] not looking to the year after it, not looking to the past years. It’s about this year and what I can do and what I can bring to this team.”