Rodney Harrison on Browns: Stefanski 'hands down' NFL Coach of Year, but Odell doesn't fit
In the midst of explaining why Kevin Stefanski should receive the NFL Coach of the Year award, former All-Pro safety and two-time Super Bowl champion Rodney Harrison summoned a hot Browns topic from the back burner.
Harrison said the Browns should trade wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason because he's not an ideal fit for Stefanski's offense or quarterback Baker Mayfield.
If Beckham would not have suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Oct. 25 against the Cincinnati Bengals, his reunion with the New York Giants on “Sunday Night Football” would have generated countless local and national headlines.
Although the Browns (9-4) won't have Beckham at MetLife Stadium, he has still been on the minds of everyone from fans to Mayfield, who said he would communicate with his superstar teammate before facing the Giants (5-8), to big-time network analysts like Harrison.
In other words, it seemed apropos for Harrison to introduce Beckham as an unsolicited talking point while discussing Stefanski and the big-picture state of the Browns on Thursday.
“I think hands down, [Stefanski should be] the coach of the year,” Harrison, a studio analyst for NBC's “Football Night in America,” said during a phone interview with the Beacon Journal. “He's been fantastic.
“You saw how much of a mess [the Browns were in the past], but from afar you don't hear those distractions [anymore]. My images of the Browns are no longer negative. It's all positive.
“And if I'm them, I'm removing Odell. When he comes back next year, I'm trying to trade him. I'm giving these young players an opportunity, and I'm moving forward with my organization. I'm going to work on the defensive side of the ball.”
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Trade speculation always seems to swirl around Beckham, and Browns General Manager Andrew Berry has grown weary of questions about it.
Last month during a Zoom video conference with Browns beat writers, Berry maintained he views Beckham, 28, as part of the franchise's future.
“I feel like this is a question I’ve literally addressed every week since I took the job,” Berry said. “So really at this point in time, I really don’t see a difference.
“I feel like I’ve answered this question enough. I can’t control what the outside noise says.”
More:Browns notebook: GM Andrew Berry maintains he views Odell Beckham Jr. as part of future
Berry stuck to the same type of answer earlier this month during an interview with NFL reporters Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter on the “Huddle and Flow” podcast.
“I respect the question,” Berry said. “Honestly, it's something I feel like I've answered pretty adequately over probably the past seven or eight months. At this point, we're really focused on his recovery. He's a good player, and he makes us better when he's on the field.”
Harrison doesn't necessarily buy the argument the Browns are better with Beckham, who's under contract through the 2023 season.
“Wide receivers, especially as they get older, they judge their production and how good they are based on their numbers. So Odell wants the ball. He wants a lot of passes. He wants a lot of opportunities. It just seems like it almost throws Baker off a little bit,” Harrison said.
Mayfield threw 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season before Beckham was injured. The tally includes Mayfield's interception on his first pass in a 37-34 win over the Bengals in Week 7. Beckham suffered the torn ACL while attempting to make a tackle during cornerback Darius Phillips' 21-yard interception return. Mayfield has thrown 13 TD passes and one interception since then. Five of those TD passes came in that same victory in Cincinnati.
“With these [other Browns receivers, Mayfield] doesn't have to force it to anyone,” Harrison said. “He can feel free to throw the ball to who he wants. He doesn't have to worry about appeasing anyone's numbers or personality — anything like that. I just think that a lot of times it just puts more pressure on a quarterback. And it's nothing bad about Odell, but I just don't think this is the offense where he's going to catch 85 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. It's just not going to happen.
“It's nothing negative against Odell, but I just think that Baker, when he has the freedom and he doesn't feel like he has to throw the ball to anyone, [it helps him]. He has Jarvis Landry, and he loves Jarvis Landry. But these other guys [in the receiving corps have played well], and just really the impact that Jarvis Landry has had on [rookie] Donovan Peoples-Jones [is evident]. You look at his attitude and how mean he's playing and the type of intensity and passion that he's bringing — I think that's a direct result of Javis Landry and him being a mentor and really setting the standard for those guys.”
When former Browns GM John Dorsey traded for Beckham in March 2019, he arrived in Cleveland on the five-year, $90 million contract extension he signed with the Giants in August 2018.
With $12.791 million of Beckham's $15.75 million in 2021 salary and bonuses guaranteed for injury, the only logical departure from Cleveland would be via trade. But would anyone trade for Beckham at his price while he's attempting to rebound from a torn ACL?
“I think if Odell would be open to adjusting his contract maybe for a winner — I mean, he's made plenty of money — that would be something that should be a consideration for Odell,” Harrison said. “I would definitely consider doing something like that if I were him to put myself in a situation where I can play with a quarterback that I know I can get the ball from and a situation where I can be the No. 1 guy.”
Harrison's point is it might be the best outcome for both sides. He doesn't think there's anything fluky about the Browns' rise this season, especially because they're successful with a first-year head coach despite the pandemic wiping out an in-person offseason and all preseason games.
“I like what Baker's doing,” Harrison said. “Kevin Stefanski seems like he's got a hold on his team. Yeah, they need some improvements on the defensive side of the ball, but they still have solid pieces that you can continue to build around.
“With an offseason, with training camp, with minicamp and OTAs, I think this team is ready to take that next step. I no longer think they're afraid of Baltimore. They're not afraid of Pittsburgh. And this is a team that can vie for division championships every single year if Baker continues on the path that he's on.”
Stefanski declined Thursday to go along with a question about drawing the best out of Mayfield, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2018.
“Baker has drawn the best out of Baker,” Stefanski said on Zoom. “All of our guys are self-starters. They do a nice job with their work week, and Baker fits in that category. His work ethic and how he prepares is something that gives me great confidence.”
But Harrison said Stefanski does indeed deserve “the majority of the credit” for the turnaround.
“What he's been able to come in and do and eliminate the distractions and have Baker playing on a level where he's playing with confidence and he's not talking bad to the media, you can just see the maturation of Baker,” Harrison said. “He's not being negative. His attitude is completely different than what it was, and he's not as defensive and people really get a chance to see his personality.
“Think about Kevin Stefanski — I can't say enough about this guy. To come in, in such a short period of time, to make everybody stop talking negative about the Browns and these guys aren't talking bad in the media and the way they're handling the press, I've just been really impressed with his command and the respect that these players have shown to him.”
The Browns will have a great chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 if they defeat the Giants. What they would be capable of doing in the postseason is another intriguing question.
“It wouldn't surprise me if they won a playoff game, but it wouldn't surprise me if they were one and done,” said Harrison, who won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. “[Their lack of playoff experience is] the unknown.
“Most guys are two different people from the regular season to the playoffs. They just are. They're just completely different. Certain guys — I don't care if he's a superstar in the regular season — some guys cannot handle the pressure of the bright lights, and that's the X factor.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
Browns at Giants
Time: 8:20 p.m. Sunday
TV: NBC (Channel 3)