See ya later, Odell

From the moment he signed the five-year contract extension worth $90 million last year with the New York Giants, Odell Beckham was supposed to be thrilled staying in East Rutherford, New Jersey. With the bright lights of New York City as a backdrop across the Lincoln Tunnel from Met Life Stadium, the uniquely talented larger than life star wide receiver had the chance to become an all-time great for one of the NFL’s most successful franchises.

Through it all, even with the former 2014 first round pick grabbed at number 12 overall out of LSU by former Giants general manager Jerry Reese, the charismatic and overly dramatic Beckham was the lightning rod that lit up the gridiron for Big Blue. Fans loved his one-handed touchdown catch that defied logic. They adored the special player he was.

Odell Beckham proposed to the net. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NFL

At 22, he took the league by storm with 91 receptions for 1305 yards and a cool baker’s dozen of touchdowns full of electrifying plays and celebrations. Teamed with two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, it looked like a match made in heaven. Eli to Beckham became a Giant staple on highlight reels with the explosive No. 13 taking seamless routes to the house.

There’s no doubting Beckham’s physical gifts. His first three seasons as a Giant at the wide receiver position are unrivaled. Year Two was 96 catches, 1450 yards and 13 touchdowns. Year Three is the only season he played in all 16 games, finishing with a career best 101 receptions for 1367 yards and 10 more touchdowns. In his first 43 games, he had a combined 288 catches, 4117 yards and 35 scores.

Astonishingly, the three-time Pro Bowler only played in one playoff game. A forgettable 38-13 loss to Green Bay in the NFC Wildcard at Lambeau Field following an 11-5 record in 2016. Following an ill timed boat party in Miami a week prior to the game, Beckham only caught four passes for 28 yards. He was targeted 11 times, which included a couple of crucial drops that stalled drives.

It’s hard to fathom three years later, Beckham’s gone. The uncanny receiver went off the tracks after a broken ankle against the Chargers during 2017. That changed everything. It almost became an alternate universe for OBJ and a disorganized Giants organization that following replacing Reese and Ben McAdoo with David Gettleman and Pat Shurmur for 2018, was like a parallel world, basically channeling a odd storyline in the cult classic TV show Dark Shadows.

Not shockingly, the team became bad quickly. They had already sunk to great depths in a disastrous Year Two under McAdoo, whose bizarre press conferences along with his insistence on benching Manning for the mediocre Geno Smith, led to his undoing. He didn’t even survive 2017 by getting unceremoniously dumped by what was a classy organization. Class is something John Mara has held onto from his late Dad, Wellington Mara. But under the younger Mara and Steve Tisch, common sense hasn’t been so common.

Sticking with Eli Manning has proven to be shortsighted. The aging quarterback, who is always accountable by handling losses with a dignity not even older brother Peyton Manning could, remains a Giant by default. This isn’t so much about Eli, who is making too much money on the salary cap. At this point, he’s not worth the $23.2 million he’s set to earn in his final year. That includes a roster bonus of $5 million on Saint Patrick’s Day. That’s only four days away.

It’s really about a stubborn front office that fears releasing Eli in similar fashion to Phil Simms. However, the big difference was when legendary GM George Young did it, Simms had just come off a Pro Bowl year with a wildcard win. That decision turned out pretty bad too due to Supplemental Draft pick Dave Brown never becoming the QB Young envisioned. They went through Kent Graham and Danny Kanell too in a dark era for Giants football in the mid 90’s before Kerry Collins brought back stability.

The return for Beckham last night isn’t bad. Despite what the experts believe, getting the Browns’ first round pick (No. 17), their second third rounder (No. 95-New England) and safety Jabrill Peppers is a solid return. Sure. It’s not a home run like a top five draft pick would’ve been. But they couldn’t have gotten that for Odell coming off the busted ankle last year anyway.

Ironically, the Browns picked first last year taking QB Baker Mayfield. A great selection that set up the franchise for a bright future that now features Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and former troubled Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and Duke Johnson. They could be scary good in 2019. With the moody Antonio Brown forcing his way out of Pittsburgh to the Raiders for only third and fifth round picks (#’s 66 & 142), it’s the Browns who are AFC North favorites.

So, what was the moment that made the Giants regret giving Odell the new contract? For me, it isn’t the boat party that ended in a very disappointing wildcard loss to Aaron Rodgers. It isn’t even him pretending to take a piss during a bizarre touchdown celebration that aggravated Mara. The poorly timed interview with media giant ESPN a month into last season had to be the breaking point for everyone involved. He basically threw Eli under the bus and insulted the organization that made him the NFL’s highest paid wideout.

This is who he is. A great talent who can be a distraction with his diva tendencies which continued during the off-season with cryptic tweets. That couldn’t have helped. I think it was his way of saying, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I can’t prove it. Jay Glazer called it.

Considering how well Saquon Barkley handled a record setting first year that won him AP Rookie Of The Year with 1307 rushing yards, 15 combined touchdowns (11 rushing/4 receiving), and 2028 total yards from scrimmage, the former Penn State star the Giants took second overall over Sam Darnold, was a breath of fresh air. He isn’t over the top when it comes to scoring or antics on and off the field. The 22-year old from the Bronx is the quintessential Giant, who they want to build around.

The issue becomes what do Giants brass decide on the quarterback. Or when. Can they really bring Manning back when they’re gonna stink anyway? Why would they? Even with an improved offensive line, they subtracted Landon Collins (signed with Redskins), Snacks Harrison (Lions), underachiever Olivier Vernon (traded to Browns for guard Kevin Zeitler with no pick swap) and Eli Apple (Saints) from the defense.

So, with the number six pick, are they going defense? They have no pass rush. In a good draft full of talented players with potential, it would make sense to rebuild the defensive line. They desperately need an edge rusher who can pressure quarterbacks and make an impact. Not just whiff like Vernon did most of the time. He still paced Big Blue with seven sacks.

I’m assuming Dwayne Haskins won’t be available at number six. The Ohio State quarterback had a superb season for the Buckeyes. He isn’t going to run much, but he can throw it. Kyler Murray is expected to go number one to Arizona. Don’t forget the Cardinals are shopping Josh Rosen. Might Gettleman have interest by offering one of the third round picks? We’ll see.

What about the number 17 pick they received from Cleveland? Do they go receiver? Only Sterling Shepard remains as a solid target with tight end Evan Engram a potential breakout candidate if he stays healthy in Year Three. Don’t forget Barkley is a true dual threat who caught a team best 91 passes for 721 receiving yards and four TD. In case you’re wondering, OBJ had 77 receptions for 1052 yards and six scores in the Giants’ first 12 games. He missed the final four due to a quad injury.

I’ll say this. Even though he doesn’t turn 27 until November 5th, Beckham’s injury history is a concern moving forward. Any time you’re talking about a very talented receiver who’s had leg injuries including hamstring issues, that’s the first thing you worry about. You can argue that he’s still in his prime with a few peak years left.

It’ll all depend on if he can stay on the field. Perhaps having other weapons around him will help. Honestly, the Browns are a perfect fit for Beckham. We’ll see if he can deliver the goods with the pressure squarely on Cleveland to fulfill lofty expectations at the Dawg Pound.

Don’t you find it fascinating that already, Beckham wants to restructure his current contract? Typical of who he is. How about going out and proving you can stay healthy and be the elite receiver everyone thinks you are. What about leading the Browns back to the playoffs and helping them advance. That’s Cleveland’s problem now.

If the Giants are gonna do this, then go all the way even if it means breaking Eli’s heart. Sometimes, it can be a cruel business. It was never going to be about 2019 anyway. It is clearly about the future of a franchise that’s lost its way. Expect more moves by the Draft in late April.

See ya later, Odell.

Advertisements

Here’s a salute to you Salsa Man

victor-cruz
A salute to the Salsa Man: Even though his Giants career is over, Victor Cruz will always hold a special place in Big Blue hearts. AP Photo via Getty Images 

As expected, the New York Giants cut ties with Victor Cruz. The popular wide receiver who was a huge part of the special 2011 season resulting in the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl championship, was released along with running back Rashad Jennings to cut about $10 million in salary freeing up cap space.

Cruz will be best remembered for his amazing run. In 2011, he came out of nowhere to become the Giants’ best receiver finishing with 82 receptions, 1536 yards and nine touchdowns. Astonishingly, the undrafted receiver out of the University of Massachusetts was an afterthought for that special season. He was fourth on the depth chart before an injury to Domenik Hixon gave Cruz his big chance.

Combining with Hakeem Nicks to form a deadly tandem who Eli Manning could trust, Cruz became the dangerous threat in the middle of the field who could break away for scores like a track star. Along with sidekick Mario Manningham, whose clutch catch in a Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots set up Ahmad Bradshaw’s winning score, Big Blue had a balanced attack featuring the aforementioned Bradshaw and popular bruiser Brandon Jacobs.

The kicker was the clutch Lawrence Tynes, whose dramatic game-winning field goal at Lambeau Field on the frozen tundra sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLII in sudden death where they stunned the undefeated Pats 17-14 as predicted by Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress, who caught the winning score from Manning. A game best remembered for Eli escaping a sure sack and then hurling a laser down field which was somehow hauled in by David Tyree with him miraculously clinging to the football against his helmet.

Justin Tuck led a defense that featured Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Antrel Rolle and Corey Webster. Michael Strahan had already retired for a successful TV career that’s been outstanding where he co-hosts the NFL On Fox and is moving on to bigger and better things at ABC.

Thinking back to that 2011 season, it hung in the balance in a defining game against the Jets. It was Tom Coughlin’s humble Giants who prevailed over Rex Ryan’s supremely confident Jets due to an amazing 99-yard touchdown catch and sprint by Cruz. A play that is often replayed for keying that run. They were in trouble having lost five of six including a gut wrenching defeat to the Redskins after a big win over the Cowboys. It was do or die against the Jets, who needed the game just as badly. Cruz’ big touchdown was the one that carried Big Blue to the win as they pulled away. The Giants would defeat the Cowboys in the final week 31-14 to win the NFC East.

After hammering the Falcons 24-2 at home, they went to Green Bay again just like in 2008. This time, it wasn’t Brett Favre they beat. But Aaron Rodgers. The defense dominated and the offense kicked it into high gear led by Manning’s three touchdowns including two to Nicks. Jacobs and Manningham also scored as there would be no dramatics in a 37-20 win.

They advanced to the NFC Title game where they faced old rival San Francisco. It brought back memories as the two classic rivals from the 80’s, 90’s and even early 00’s clashed. The 49ers had already beat them in the regular season. But the Giants found a way to slow down Alex Smith. A Manningham touchdown combined with a David Akers field goal forced sudden death. A lost fumble by Kyle Williams on a punt return set up Tynes’ winning field goal from 31 yards out sending the underdog Giants to Super Bowl XLVI where they would defeat the Patriots again. This time by a score of 21-17.

They don’t get there without the valuable Cruz, whose 10 receptions for 142 yards took apart the 49ers’ secondary. In the four-point come from behind victory over New England, he caught a touchdown pass from Manning. On an impressive drive with the team trailing 17-15, Manning led them down field. He handed off to Bradshaw, who didn’t want to score. But his momentum carried him into the end zone putting the Giants ahead 21-17. The two-point try was unsuccessful.

The defense got the job done stifling Tom Brady and the vaunted Pats offense. Honestly, without that D which also keyed the monumental 17-14 upset of a perfect New England team entering Super Bowl 42, there’s no championships under Coughlin. And both were amazing runs which came unexpected. On the biggest stage, Manning performed well winning two Super Bowl MVP’s. However, Tuck could’ve won one.

Somewhat interesting about the Giants franchise history, in all four Super Bowl wins, they have faced the AFC opponent once in the regular season. They went 2-2 in those games only to win all four for the Lombardi Trophy. The only time they didn’t was Super Bowl XXXV when the dominant Ravens defense hammered them 34-7 in 2001.

As for Cruz, the Salsa Man became one of the biggest fan favorites in team history. Whenever he made a big catch, he was serenaded by Big Blue supporters with chants of “Cruuuuuzzz!!!!!”

He deserved it. Now 30, he’s been a classic overachiever. If not for injuries, Cruz would still be a Giant. Bur that has a way of changing things. We’ve seen it so many times in the NFL. Whether it be Nicks, Steve Smith, Bradshaw or Cruz, they can shorten careers. It’s a shame because Cruz is the local kid from Patterson, New Jersey who made good. His salsa dance will always be classic after scoring. He’s beloved by fans. Even if his role diminished in a mostly healthy 2016 that saw the Giants get back to the playoffs with only 39 catches for 586 yards with a touchdown, he’ll always be cherished by New Jersey and New York fans who live and die with Big Blue.

We know what he did and we appreciate it. Cruz says he thinks he still has plenty left. So, it looks like he’ll move elsewhere. The Broncos are showing interest. The thing is how much does he have left. He’s had so many setbacks. It makes one ponder if he can ever be a consistent player again. I am rooting for him. Even if he admitted fault with the whole boat party in Miami on New Year’s Eve prior to getting eliminated by the Packers, it doesn’t change my perspective.

The salsa man will always have a special place in our hearts. Here’s to you. ❤

Hard Hits talks big October Football Weekend

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw will be facing Max Scherzer in a battle of aces in a great match up between the Dodgers and Nationals in the NLDS. That and plenty more was covered on Hard Hits from Derek, Colin and John. AP Photo by Jeff Chiu/Getty Images

Hard Hits is my internet show that can be heard on the airwaves of BlogTalkRadio. Originally started in February 2007, the Hard Hits Network has been around for nine years in some format or another. A sports themed show that also mixes in the current events and music from time to time, it’s our way to express ourselves.

On Sunday, we did two live broadcasts. Each was 30 minutes live with 15 minutes of overtime. Until we go back to Premium, it’ll be a shorter format. Once we do renew for Premium, longer shows shall return. Featuring John “JPG” Giagnorio, Colin Cannaday, Rob “Retirement” Davis, Brian David Sanborn, Justin “JNF” Felix and hosted by yours truly, Derek “Flex” Felix, it’s always entertaining back and forth banter. No matter what the topic, it is “hard hitting.”

In Part 1 of a two show special edition, the guest of honor JPG showed up to discuss his relocation to Las Vegas. Naturally, he stopped in Chicago for hometown before completing the trip with his Cubs primed for a big October run. Derek predictably figured out what John ordered for dinner. Plus more interesting discussion from the statmastah who joined Derek and Colin for both college football, NFL and baseball wildcard predictions.

Who will win? The Orioles or Blue Jays. The winner gets the Texas Rangers. The other AL Division series is set between two evenly matched teams with the Indians hosting the Red Sox in Big Papi’s final year. Can Cleveland overcome Boston’s lethal lineup?

Meanwhile, the Giants are back in in another even year. Can they make another improbable run? They’ll visit the Mets Wednesday with a great match-up between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard. Find out who Colin and John like. Also why Derek went against his original prediction. The winner takes on JPG’s Cubs.

In the other NL Division match-up, it features two of the game’s best pitchers with the Nats’ Max Scherzer taking on the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. It shapes up to be a great series. For more breakdown on this series, tune into Part 2 where Derek, Colin and John made their predictions.

Catch Part 1 of Hard Hits A JPG Tribute here:

Hard Hits Part I: A JPG Tribute

Among the topics covered were two unbelievable college football games including the hail mary which allowed Tennessee to stun Georgia. Plus a pro style classic with Clemson and Louisville going toe to toe with Heisman quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson putting on a show.

NFL Week 4 highlights are discussed with Colin pretty pumped about his Falcons led by record performances from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in a dismantling of the suddenly struggling Panthers. Plus why Derek feels sorry for Phil Rivers following the Chargers’ latest collapse. The Bills pull off a shocker in New England. They’re back.

Derek also makes a prediction into the future on baseball.

Warren Hills Regional High School grieves the loss of star quarterback

Tragedy is something we each must deal with. It’s an unfortunate part of life. For the students and teachers of Warren Hills Regional High School in Warren County, they’re grieving the loss of quarterback Evan Murray.

The 17-year old senior passed away Friday Sept. 25 after suffering a injury during a game. He was helped off the field and gave a thumbs up to cheers from fans and teammates. Everyone was shocked by his death. It was later revealed that he suffered a lacerated spleen with “massive” internal bleeding. The news came down this afternoon.

It’s a very sad tragedy. I can’t imagine what his parents are going through. My condolences go out to his family, friends and the Warren Hills community. A local New Jersey kid who played the sport he loved is gone way too soon. It shouldn’t be. There has been overwhelming support from teammates, students, teachers and parents.

“We lost a fine kid,” Regional Hills coach Larry Dubiel told NJ.com’s Jim Deegan in a story that appeared Saturday following an emotional 14-12 loss to Summit. Not knowing how serious Murray’s condition was, they kept playing. Heartbreaking stuff.

Whenever a tragedy like this happens, people rally together. On Twitter, one close friend of Murray is raising money for the family by selling wrist bands.

The wrist bands should be available in about a week. Everyone should buy one and help support Murray’s family.