Odell Beckham Jr. is finally free. Now what?

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·NFL columnist
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Odell Beckham Jr. got his wish. He’s a free agent and gets to select his next team based on his own criteria.

The wideout went unclaimed and officially passed through waivers Tuesday, effectively freeing $3 million in salary-cap space for the Cleveland Browns and clearing Beckham to move forward as a free agent. He will walk away from the Browns with $4.25 million, along with whatever salary Beckham lands with his new team, which is likely to sign him for the remainder of the 2021 slate, allowing the wide receiver to enter free agency again after the season.

The pressing question now is what team is interested in pursuing Beckham and where will he find the best opportunity for a quick shine over the next few months? A source close to the wideout told Yahoo Sports last week that Beckham prefers a team in playoff contention that features an offensive-minded head coach and a creative veteran quarterback with a track record of success. That could considerably trim the list of suitors. It will also take two to tango, meaning there will be some teams fitting that definition that may not consider adding Beckham to their current mix.

Here are the four spots that could be in the mix during what is expected to be a brief free agency:

Seattle Seahawks

They have been a buzzy contender for a few days and head coach Pete Carroll didn’t throw any cold water on it Monday, essentially telling reporters the team has been involved enough to know what has been going on with Beckham.

“We’ll let you know as soon as it happens,” Carroll said without saying what “it” would be. “I got to wait. So, I didn’t say yes or I didn’t say no. But that’s because — you’ll see.”

Seattle isn’t exactly in the playoff mix at 3-5, but the Seahawks aren’t out of it either with the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons currently seated in the NFC’s 7th seed. 

Quarterback Russell Wilson returns this week to face the Green Bay Packers from an injured finger and Seattle could take a big step toward turning the season back into the right direction with a win. 

More important, Seattle has some things going for it. While Carroll is more of a defensive coach, he’s no stranger to potent passing offenses with Wilson at the helm. And Wilson certainly fits the bill for the veteran quarterback with a track record for experience. Perhaps the bigger issue is whether Beckham would get the volume of targets he might want with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett entrenched as Seattle's top two receivers. There’s clearly room for a third wheel. It will be interesting to see if Beckham is open to that.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 13, 2019: Wide receivers DK Metcalf #14 of the Seattle Seahawks and Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns pose for a picture after trading jersys after a game on October 13, 2019 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Seattle won 32-28. (Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
Wide receivers DK Metcalf (left) and Odell Beckham Jr. pose for a picture after trading jersys after a game in 2019. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

San Francisco 49ers

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan has long been an admirer of Beckham — to the point that there was speculation in 2019 that San Francisco could make a run for him via trade. That never materialized and the the 49ers ran into their own problems. Like Seattle, the 3-5 49ers are also still on the fringe of the playoff picture. But they’re also reeling of late, losing five of their past six games and fielding a muddled quarterback picture. Shanahan, however, didn’t entirely remove his team from a pursuit.

The question here is whether Beckham wants to step into another potential quarterback mess for a team that seems to be spiraling for a multitude of reasons. He could get some targets in an offense that has been largely carried by wideout Deebo Samuel and should get another lift with tight end George Kittle back in the lineup. The team’s other top wideout, Brandon Aiyuk, appears to be in Shanahan’s doghouse, which could mean an opportunity for Beckham. But this isn’t the slam dunk fit that it might have looked like a month ago.

New Orleans Saints

This was the only team to speak to the Browns about Beckham before the trade deadline passed. And although the Saints didn’t make an offer for him, it’s clear the need and the interest is there. New Orleans would have little to offer in salary but the absolute veteran minimum for the remainder of the season, but it more than makes up for the money with opportunity. Wideout Michael Thomas won’t be coming back and the Saints badly need more receiving options in an offense that lacks pop beyond running back Alvin Kamara.

The fit is there in terms of the offensive-minded head coach in Sean Payton, who has been a fan of Beckham’s games for years and once joked about his kids wearing the No. 13 jersey of the wideout when he played for the New York Giants. New Orleans is also squarely in playoff contention, holding the fifth seed in the NFC at the moment at 5-3. 

There is some question about who will be the Saints quarterback moving forward — Taysom Hill or Trevor Siemian. Neither is really all that ideal a fit for Beckham’s game. And with so few games left to get himself in gear, that has to be a serious consideration.

Other teams that could factor

The Baltimore Ravens have a need for Beckham, but wideout Sammy Watkins is back in practice and factors again into the offense. Receiver Hollywood Brown and tight end Mark Andrew will eat up some targets, too. But quarterback Lamar Jackson is dynamic and head coach John Harbaugh is one of the best in the business. 

If the Ravens are that hot after Beckham it’s worth wondering why Jackson directed fans who were messaging him on Twitter about Beckham to turn their attention to the franchise and not him. That’s not exactly a recruitment.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are another struggling offense that certainly needs a third option beyond receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The franchise also has Andy Reid at the helm and, like the Ravens, still factor in the AFC’s playoff mix. And it’s worth noting that the Chiefs have picked up another potential third option in Josh Gordon who hasn’t made a dent up to this point. 

Would Kansas City dump Gordon this quickly for Beckham? And would there be enough targets to go around with him on the field next to Hill and Kelce?

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