The Week That Was: “Adios Odell, Hello Le’Veon”

    New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman clearly isn’t afraid of ruffling the feathers of his fan base.

     Two weeks ago he let All-Pro safety Landon Collins leave as a free agent without getting any compensation. Collins quickly signed with NFC East rivals, the Washington Redskins.

    Last Wednesday Gettleman pulled the trigger on a trade that sent marquee wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. (OBJ) to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the Browns’ first and third round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft and safety Jabrill Peppers who ostensibly will replace Landon Collins.

    Many Giants fans were livid because Beckham is a once-in-a-generation wide receiver who routinely made acrobatic catches in dramatic situations that would make the Flying Wallendas proud.

    The expression “With talent comes temperament” is apropos for OBJ because he’s always had a knack for picking up dumb and costly penalties. In addition he publicly questioned Giants head coach Pat Shurmur for having a game plan that did not call for QB Eli Manning to throw to him more often following a Giants’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last season. Two years ago he was pictured on a boat in Miami partying with his teammates six days before the Giants would play the Green Bay Packers in a playoff game in that frozen Wisconsin town. The Giants lost badly to the Packers and Beckham’s performance was putrid.

    In spite of everything, the Giants gave him a five-year, $95 million extension at the beginning of last season because Giants owner John Mara demanded that.

     Keep in mind that OBJ was drafted by Gettleman’s predecessor, Jerry Reese so he wasn’t tied to him. John Mara must have had buyer’s remorse. Gettleman, who had been battling cancer (which he says is now in complete remission happily), certainly didn’t want to deal with his antics any longer.

    Almost as soon as Beckham’s name came off of the locker at the Giants’ East Rutherford headquarters. Gettleman signed veteran wide receiver Golden Tate who was a free agent. Tate isn’t as flashy as OBJ but he’s very reliable and not a prima donna.

     ,Dave Gettleman’s New York Jets counterpart, Mike Maccagnan, had promised that he’d make a big splash in the free agency market and he kept his word, by signing running back Le’Veon Bell who missed the entire 2018 season as he could not come to terms on a contract with his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

     Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL and he gives second- year QB Sam Darnold a potent offensive weapon. The Jets haven’t really had an elite running back since Curtis Martin. Bell’s unplanned sabbatical from the NFL should mean that he’ll be coming into training camp in great shape.    

     While the Jets’ acquisition of Le’Veon Bell generated backpage headlines the team quietly lost two of its best players through free agency from last season. Andre Roberts, who was the Jets best kickoff and punt return specialist I have seen since Leon Washington was in his heyday a decade ago, signed with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent. Reliable place-kicker Jason Myers agreed to a lucrative offer from the Seattle Seahawks.

     The Atlantic-10 men’s basketball tournament returned to Barclays Center after a two-year absence when it was forced to vacate Brooklyn to make way for the more glamorous Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

    The A-10 is what sports television executives label as “a mid-major conference” which means that it’s not going to draw big crowds to its tournament that determines which of its teams will be going to the NCAA’s March Madness. The only local college in the Atlantic-10 is Fordham University and they always seem to get bounced out the first day of its tournament which doesn’t help attendance. Also working against the A-10 is the fact that it goes head-to-head with the Big East at Madison Square Garden.

     Whereas a Thursday noon game in the Big East Tournament was a sellout at MSG the A-10 was lucky to have a 1,000 spectators for its early rounds. The shame of it is that all of the games were well-played and many literally came down to the wire. There is no reason why these fine college athletes should play in front of a sparse crowds for these playoff games. It would behoove Barclays Center and Atlantic-10 Conference executives to “paper the house” by offering free tickets to seniors or students and perhaps charging a nominal fee to others if they show a union or AAA membership card. They’d probably wind up making a nice profit on food and merchandise.

     One of the teams competing in the A-10 Conference was George Mason University from Alexandria, Virginia. One of its players was Otis Livingston II who is the son of WCBS-TV sports anchor Otis Livingston. He told me following his team’s loss to St. Bonaventure University Friday afternoon that he plans on playing basketball professionally and is willing to play overseas if need be.

     March Madness is as much about American commerce as it is college sports.  During CBS’s Sports’ Sunday selection show, Coca-Cola was referred to every ten minutes as its “championship sponsor.” Likewise Marriott Hotels held a press event last week at its trendy Moxy Hotel in Manhattan’s Financial District to promote its sponsorship deal withe the NCAA by having former Duke University star, NBA legend, and currently a Turner Sports broadcaster and Atlanta Hawks limited partner Grant Hill as a speaker.

     I asked Hill, who graduated with honors from Duke 25 years ago, if he was concerned that his alma mater, which has long been known as one of the finest academic institutions in the United States, was being tainted by recruiting players who clearly had no interest in graduating but rather playing one year there and going onto the NBA. In short, why should Duke feel the need to be fishing in the same waters, as say, the University of Kentucky or University of Kansas?

    Hill was diplomatic in his answer. “The money is incredible in the NBA so I can’t blame the players. All I can say is that I had wonderful experiences in my four years at Duke that they’ll never get to know.” He shied away from answering why Duke felt it was imperative to be a serious contender every year for the men’s NCAA basketball title.

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