FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Aaron Rodgers is 0-for-2 in recruiting Odell Beckham Jr. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
The New York Jets’ presumptive quarterback, unsuccessful in 2021 and 2022 when Beckham was a free agent, included him on his so-called wish list, saying recently on “The Pat McAfee Show,” “Who wouldn’t want Odell on their team?”
Despite a crowded receiver room — five players with starting experience — the Jets and Beckham have mutual interest. He’d be their splashiest free-agent signing since running back Le’Veon Bell in 2019, joining NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson and newcomers Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman at wideout.
Lazard also was on Rodgers’ list and — voila! — he landed a four-year, $44 million contract. Clearly, the Jets are doing everything they can to accommodate Rodgers, whose trade to them will be finalized as soon as the Jets and Green Bay Packers agree on compensation. On Thursday, Hardman signed a one-year deal that can max out at $6.5 million. Is Ezekiel Elliott next? The former Dallas Cowboys running back is considering the Jets, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter — perhaps another sign that Rodgers eventually landing in New York has made them a free-agent destination.
“They’re just intoxicated with Rodgers,” a longtime personnel executive said of the Jets’ brass. “They’ve sold their soul now.”
Rodgers and Beckham haven’t been teammates before, but they developed a long-distance friendship over the years. Speaking last fall to McAfee, Rodgers said “with a player like that, you’re always hoping there’s a time when you can figure things out and play together.”
Rodgers and the Packers showed interest in Beckham when he was released by the Cleveland Browns in the middle of the 2021 season. Rodgers thought they had a legitimate shot, but Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Rams and won a Super Bowl. In 2022, when Beckham was flirting with a comeback after his second ACL surgery, Rodgers again publicly lobbied. This time, his friend wound up sitting out the season as he continued to recover.
A potential Jets-Beckham pairing is intriguing on so many levels. Can they afford him? Do they really need another receiver? Even after Wednesday’s trade of Elijah Moore to the Browns, they still have Corey Davis and Denzel Mims on the roster (for now). Perhaps the biggest question: Is Beckham, who will be 31 in November and hasn’t played a game in more than 13 months (since Super Bowl LVI), still the same player?
The Jets, one of the teams that attended his recent workout in Arizona, believe so. They have a do-everything receiver in Wilson. They have a vertical threat in Hardman, who can influence coverage with his deep speed. They have a short- to intermediate target in Lazard. They believe Beckham would complement them to round out their receiving corps, probably making Davis ($11.2 million cap) expendable.
Still, there are questions: Beckham’s last 1,000-yard season came in 2019 with the Browns. He has 12 receiving touchdowns in his last 37 games, compared to 35 in his first 43 games (all with the New York Giants). But — and here’s the reason he tantalizes his suitors — he eventually got comfortable with the Rams and was fantastic during their championship run.
In the NFC Championship Game, he had nine catches for 113 yards. In the Super Bowl, he was off to a terrific start with two catches for 52 yards before the devastating knee injury.
“Guys like that are good for one year on a prove-it deal,” said a veteran scout who has studied Beckham closely throughout his career. “If you think he can be that one guy to put you over the top, to get you to a Super Bowl, then do it. If Rodgers likes him and he’s interested, I’d be interested, too, if I were the Jets.”
Future Hall of Fame quarterbacks sometimes have an affinity for certain receivers.
“[Tom] Brady had an infatuation with Antonio Brown, so I get it,” said the personnel executive, alluding to the quarterback-receiver tandem that fizzled in two places, New England and Tampa Bay. “I’m not saying [Beckham] wouldn’t have a role — he’s still talented — but I don’t know what baggage he’s bringing. He used to have that diva mentality. He’s toned it down — maturity happened along the way — but I don’t see him as $10 million or $12 million player.”
Beckham’s asking price? Let’s connect some dots.
In 2018, Allen Robinson II was a free agent after missing nearly an entire season due to an ACL injury and still landed $14 million per year from the Chicago Bears (three years, $42 million). The Dallas Cowboys had been pursuing Beckham, but pivoted to trading for Brandin Cooks, giving up two draft picks and paying him $12 million in base salary this season — a pretty good indication that Beckham’s price probably is a few million north of $12 million on a one-year deal. The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs also have been linked to Beckham.
You could argue the Jets would have enough weapons for Rodgers even without Beckham. Hardman, explaining his decision to sign, mentioned the other receivers as the primary reason.
“I think playing alongside [Lazard] will be great, and they’ve got a great second-year player now in Garrett Wilson, who had an absolutely unbelievable year,” Hardman said Thursday on a Zoom call with reporters. “Those names, just to play alongside them, definitely is attractive.”
Another name could be added to the group, one of the biggest names in the sport.
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