Odell Beckham Jr. has not yet officially hit the waiver wire, but it's only a matter of time. He won't be playing for the Browns again this season.
When he does find himself on waivers ... what then? And do the Patriots have any chance of scooping him up and adding the three-time Pro Bowl wideout to their roster?
Let's get into the nitty gritty ...
What is Beckham's status now?
He's still technically a member of the Browns even though they've already made a statement saying that Beckham and the team have decided to part ways. The holdup there has been related to Beckham's contract.
Beckham's deal contained language that would allow Cleveland to convert salary to signing bonus that can be spread over multiple years on the cap while reducing his base salary to the minimum, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. That was one potential path for both sides. It would’ve benefitted the Browns from a bookkeeping perspective.
But ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday that the two sides reached an agreement on a re-worked deal that did not drop his salary to the minimum. Instead the re-done deal will require any team that claims Beckham on waivers to become responsible for $7.25 million for the remainder of 2021.
The final two years on Beckham's contract have also been wiped away, meaning he’ll hit unrestricted free agency after the season. His release is expected to become official early next week.
What happens once Beckham is released?
The cost of claiming Beckham via waivers makes it less likely that he’s claimed at all. There aren’t many teams out there looking to add over $7 million to their payroll at this point in the year, though there are nine teams that could absorb that number immediately: Jacksonville, Philly, Denver, Seattle, Carolina, Chargers, Pittsburgh, Washington and Cincinnati. Others could maneuver cap space in order to have room for Beckham if they were desperate to add him via waivers.
Had Beckham's salary been reduced to the veteran minimum, that would’ve made his deal much easier to absorb via the league's waiver claim system. How does that work? Once he's released, Beckham will be subject to waivers. That means every team in the NFL would have an opportunity to claim Beckham and his contract.
If Beckham goes unclaimed, he would become a free agent and able to sign with any club on a new contract. Cleveland would then become responsible for any remaining guaranteed portion of Beckham’s original deal.
Can the Patriots land him?
While any team can claim Beckham on waivers, the way the waiver system works is it gives priority to the worst teams in football.
The winless Lions would have the first crack at claiming Beckham and his contract. If they want him, they get him. No questions asked. He has no say in the matter. If the Lions don't want him, the option would go to team No. 31, which right now is Miami. If they say no thanks, the Texans would be up, then the Jags. And on and on.
The Patriots are currently 15th on the waiver wire priority list but results from this weekend’s games will shake up the order. As of now, Beckham would need to get past the Seahawks (No. 9), 49ers (No. 12), Vikings (No. 13) and Colts (No. 14) -- all still realistically in the playoff hunt -- before the Patriots had their chance.
The Patriots can’t add the prorated portion of his 2021 salary to their books without some serious cap-figure shuffling to clear room. But if he clears, he'd get to pick his landing spot.
He's shown in the past he has an affinity for the job Bill Belichick has done in New England, and so given his druthers there's a chance he would choose to come to Foxboro.
Should the Patriots want him?
Here's where things get interesting.
First things first: Never say never when it comes to the Patriots and any potential big-name acquisitions. From Randy Moss to Josh Gordon to Antonio Brown, the Patriots have proven in the past they aren't afraid to make a big-name splash at the receiver spot.
Does this particular short-term marriage make sense, though?
After speaking with folks in Cleveland who've seen Beckham go about his business with the Browns behind the scenes, there are a number of reasons that would suggest it doesn't make a lot of sense for the Patriots to be players for his services.
He's viewed as a bad fit in terms of his football character. The way in which he's gone about trying to get out of town in Cleveland -- a team still in the mix for a playoff spot that is having trouble scoring points at the moment, and that has what it thinks is a good (if not elite) young quarterback -- certainly hasn't made Beckham many fans among the Browns coaching staff.
Until this week, Beckham's behavior hasn't necessarily been a problem. He generally plays hard in practice. And the little things, like blocking, haven't been an issue. But his willingness to do what he's been asked was viewed as a way for Beckham to bide his time, prove he can be a net add as a teammate, and court trade suitors from afar.
Once it got closer to the NFL trade deadline and Beckham's widely-known desire to be dealt hadn't yet happened, that's when his father took to social media to blast Baker Mayfield's ability to distribute the football.
There's also a sense that Beckham's perception of himself might not match up with reality. He has 40 catches to his name in 13 games since the start of last season. He's surrounded by people reminding him he's the player he was five years ago when he may no longer be, and he has developed a reputation as a bit of a freelancer as a route-runner.
For the Patriots, who have a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones who is currently on a nice trajectory in his first pro season, who take pride in the detail-oriented nature of their passing game, Beckham's fit may not be the most snug.
He would represent a talent upgrade at the position in Foxboro, but he could also be a wild card from a personality perspective. Would he push for touches as he eyes a new contract next offseason? And how would that impact Jones, who while comfortable in his own skin, is still learning the league and has enough on his plate without worrying about placating a star receiver?
As things stand, the Patriots are currently 11th in the league in scoring and 12th in the league in yards per pass attempt with Jones handing the controls. Still, Beckham remains a talented player at a premium position. And the Patriots have never been afraid to get aggressive at mid-season before.
"We’ve done that before," Belichick said Friday. "We brought in [Aqib] Talib in the middle of the season. You’d have to evaluate any situation. I don’t really know any specifics to talk about, so at this point, there’s nothing to really talk about. We’d do anything we could to help our football team."