Odell Beckham Jr. and the Cleveland Browns parted ways recently. On this week’s More Than Football podcast, PFN’s Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and host Brett Yarris are joined by Super Bowl winner Trent Dilfer to discuss Beckham Jr.’s decision to leave the Browns.
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Cleveland’s offense was not suited for players like Odell Beckham Jr.
Dilfer sees a number of ways in which the Browns’ offensive functions might have caused problems for Beckham. To start with, as Dilfer eloquently puts it, “they got dudes” but “their system is not dude-based.”
Dilfer notes a trend in modern football to assemble a group of great players and play a hyper-aggressive offensive style. And players love this method of running an offense because they each get their time in the spotlight. Or, as Dilfer puts it, “everybody eats.”
The problem is, you don’t win many games playing that way. It forces you to “sacrifice some of the core tenets of winning football.” Dilfer points to the Patriots, who were so successful for so long in large part because their players didn’t have that mindset. When Tom Brady dropped back, the ball went where it needed to go; it didn’t matter who was on the other end of the pass.
And the system Kevin Stefanski runs is fairly rigid. They build off of the run, and players need to be in the right place at the right time. The sort of freelancing that Beckham and other elite wide receivers often like to do has no place in it.
The problem in Cleveland is not the fault of a single individual
In situations like the one that happened between Beckham and the Browns, it’s tempting to take a side and point fingers at one person. However, as Wingo points out, “this is not a one-person issue.” Beckham’s time in Cleveland fell apart because “the foundation wasn’t laid before the football.”
Dilfer says Baker Mayfield should have sat down with Beckham when he first arrived and laid the groundwork for what would happen. They knew then that Beckham would never catch 150 passes in this offense. Furthermore, they knew Mayfield wouldn’t throw for 4,500 yards. They should also have set guidelines on how they would communicate with each other when they were frustrated.
Dilfer recalls a wide receiver he played with in Seattle, Darrell Jackson. Jackson was an extremely emotional player. And when his coaches and teammates yelled at him, he got upset because he never got to respond. So, Dilfer made him a deal.
For about 10 seconds in the huddle or practice, Jackson could vent about Dilfer messing up, so long as he understood Dilfer would do the same when Jackson made a mistake. It worked, but it took time and effort for their relationship to get to that point.
Baker Mayfield will learn these skills eventually
Dilfer notes that it takes a while for young quarterbacks to learn how to form those relationships. In college, the head coach handles most of the problems between players for them. Once they get to the NFL, they need to learn so many other things that building relationships can get put to the side.
Eventually, though, the quarterback recognizes that for the team to function properly, they need to have “deep, honest, authentic relationships with the people out there with” them.
Dilfer says that he didn’t learn that skill until he left Tampa Bay. When the Buccaneers didn’t re-sign him, Dilfer looked at where he went wrong. His relationships with his teammates were one of those areas. He focused more on building relationships in his future destinations, doing things as little as knowing everybody’s name in the building.
He thinks Mayfield is at the point in his career where he will start learning those skills, and the Browns will be better for it. Because if “you pour enough into the relationship bucket, the football is naturally going to get better.”