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Coming out of Sunday’s NFL slate, the football world will be on blockbuster trade watch as Tuesday’s deadline looms. But it’s entirely possible the next major NFL trade will involve Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the 2021 offseason.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning that “there is a very real possibility” Beckham—who is on injured reserve with a torn ACL—is traded before he plays another NFL game.
“Beckham has never really fully embraced Cleveland,” added Rapoport. “He’s never had a good rapport with Baker Mayfield, and—as we saw last week—they may be playing better without him.”
OBJ obviously has some baggage, but 2021 will only be his age-29 season. There’s no denying his raw ability, and the three-time Pro Bowler has five 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, so it’s not as though he hasn’t delivered.
A new environment could enable a healthy Beckham to excel again as a No. 1 receiver next season. Which potential destinations makes the most sense? Not every franchise is suitable for a player like Beckham on or off the field, and his $15.75 million 2021 salary could be a factor.
With that in mind, here are five teams to watch.
It’s essentially now or never for the Lions. If they fail to experience playoff success yet again this year, they could be ready to make a significant move ahead of quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s age-33 season. Stafford, Beckham and Kenny Golladay could form quite the passing-game trio.
The Lions aren’t slated to have much salary-cap space at the start of the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac, but they can pocket $6.5 million merely by cutting Desmond Trufant and can get creative enough to make this happen if they’re driven.
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Of course, it’s also possible Beckham could be replacing Golladay, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March alongside fellow starter Marvin Jones Jr. Beckham would cost less than a Golladay franchise tag and would require far less guaranteed money than Golladay would on a fresh, long-term deal.
So either way, this can’t be ruled out.
Green Bay Packers
Ahead of this week’s deadline, the Packers have been linked to Houston Texans wideout Will Fuller V, and a lot has been made of the fact that they lack elite talent beyond Davante Adams at that position.
This is a walk year for Fuller anyway, so if Green Bay doesn’t make a Super Bowl run this season, the front office could become antsy and try to bring in Beckham to team up with Adams in support of a 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers in 2021.
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The Packers aren’t projected to be in much better shape than Detroit from a cap standpoint, but Rodgers can always restructure his massive deal if he really wants to make this happen in what could be a make-or-break year. They can also raise just about enough to have room for OBJ by releasing or creatively extending offensive tackle David Bakhtiari ahead of a contract year.
This remains unlikely because of Adams’ presence, but the desire for more weapons could be undeniable if the Packers fall short yet again this postseason.
The Colts could decide to move on from top receiver T.Y. Hilton, who is slated to become a free agent in March. Hilton is on the verge of turning 31, and he hasn’t been consistently effective since 2018.
Beckham would be an obvious potential replacement for Hilton on a team in win-now mode, but the Colts—whom Spotrac projects will possess more salary-cap space than all but two teams—have the money to make this happen and re-sign or tag Hilton.
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This could all depend on which direction the Colts go under center. If they elect to move on from veteran Philip Rivers after just one season, they might not want to mess with a young replacement’s head by adding a potential lightning rod to the locker room.
Still, this team as is could benefit from an affordable, potentially inspired Beckham, especially if it loses Hilton.
New England Patriots
Could Beckham be the latest reclamation project to flourish in New England? It can’t be ruled out as the Patriots embark on at least a miniature rebuild following a series of critical departures and what appears to be a noncompetitive 2020 season.
Beckham in any sort of rebuilding situation doesn’t sound ideal, but the Pats could provide an exception. The organization deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point, and OBJ could be inspired to play for Bill Belichick, who might also believe he can tame the sometimes-volatile wideout.
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
This could also depend, to an extent, on who is slated to quarterback the Pats in 2021 since Cam Newton only signed a one-year deal, but it can’t be ruled out right now.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position, but nobody has proved to be an elite force at wideout in San Francisco and almost all of their receivers have failed to be consistently effective since the team emerged as a heavyweight last season.
Beckham could be a featured outside receiver there, and he and Kyle Shanahan would likely jump at the chance to work with each other. The 49ers are certainly driven to win right now after falling short in last year’s Super Bowl, and they could become a lot less patient if a lack of offensive weaponry again factors in as they fall short of Super Bowl glory in 2020.
Winslow Townson/Associated Press
With more than $13 million in projected 2021 salary-cap space and wiggle room in contracts belonging to veterans Jimmy Garoppolo, Kwon Alexander, Weston Richburg, Dee Ford and Jimmie Ward, they also have the financial flexibility to pull this off.
Plus, this wouldn’t be the first time Beckham was linked to the 49ers.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.