Giants make in-person push for OBJ, but are Cowboys still the favorites?

Giants make in-person push for OBJ, but are Cowboys still the favorites?

Odell Beckham Jr. kicked off his free agent/publicity tour in New Jersey on Thursday night by stepping back into his past and embracing the nostalgia. And according to one of his former Giants teammates, the lure of returning to his old home could be strong.

"I told him, ‘Man, it would be a special thing if you came back here,'" Giants receiver Sterling Shepard said on Friday. "'The city would definitely be happy about that. It would be like old times.'

It certainly would be special if Beckham returned to the team that drafted him back in 2014 (and traded him away in 2019), and to the city where he first became a star. But first he has to finish his free-agent tour, which continues in Buffalo this weekend and in Dallas on Monday. There might even be more visits after that, according to one source familiar with his plans.

But almost no one outside his old friends in the Giants locker room seems to expect that Beckham will be back in New York after that.

The Giants remain "the longest of longshots" to land the free-agent receiver, as one league executive put it on Friday, despite all the warm and fuzzy feelings his visit generated this week. They may be sentimental favorites to some, but they're a bad fit for a variety of reasons — especially financially, since no one around the NFL thinks the Giants will give Beckham the kind of financial commitment he wants.

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The most likely team to do that, of course, remains the Dallas Cowboys, who have been talking up Beckham's impending visit for months. If their doctors declare that the 30-year-old is healthy enough to help them this season, everyone believes that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be financially all in.

"I think it happens," Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said on The Ticket Sportsradio in Dallas. "I mean, if I was betting, I would bet virtually everything I have on it. I don't think this is hyperbole. I've never known Jerry to lose a player that he's wanted. I just haven't."

Jones — along with almost everyone else in the Cowboys organization — has made it clear that he wants Beckham, if they determine that his knee is healthy. But that remains a huge "if." Beckham, of course, tore the ACL in his left knee twice in a 16-month span — the last time in Super Bowl LVI, less than 10 months ago.

That's what this tour is really all about. There is "considerable doubt" around the league about just how healthy Beckham is, one NFC executive said, and whether he'll really be able to contribute much this season. And that's a problem because Beckham has informed teams he's seeking a multi-year contract, that he hopes will end up being worth $20 million per year.

That is surely out of the Giants' price range. Despite their 7-4 record and unexpected appearance in the playoff race, they know they are still a rebuilding team that is still digging itself out of the salary cap hell left behind by former GM Dave Gettleman. New GM Joe Schoen has been cautious in his spending in his 10 months on the job, keeping as much cap room as he can open for use in 2023.

The other obstacle to a Giants reunion might be Beckham himself, because even if he'd be willing to accept a more reasonable deal, nostalgia might only carry him so far. Beckham told Amazon Prime's Taylor Rooks on Thursday that his main criteria for a new team is that "I want to win. I want to return to the top of greatness (but)  I mainly want to help a team win."

Still, the Giants took their shot. Beckham arrived in town on Thursday night — with no incidents on his flight this time — and went to dinner with Giants coach Brian Daboll and other members of the team staff. He's not going to work out for anyone on his mini-tour, but he was expected to take a physical for the team.

"It was a good visit," said Giants coach Brian Daboll. His only other comment was that he ate "a great steak".

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Not surprisingly, while in town, Beckham got a push from some of his Giants friends, like Shepard and Barkley, who have been his lead recruiters for New York all along.

"I would be lying if I didn't say that having Odell in the locker room would help this team," Barkley said on Friday. "The energy that he brings, the swagger that he plays with, the playmaking ability that he has, the moment he steps in the locker room he automatically makes that team better."

All signs, though, keep pointing straight at the star in the middle of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as Beckham's eventual landing spot. Jones, in an interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday morning, said he's "excited" for Beckham's upcoming visit. When asked if he'd let a healthy Beckham leave the Cowboys facility without a signed contract, Jones said "Well, I wish it were as easy as me saying yes or no."

Many around the league believe it might just be that easy if Jones decides he wants Beckham. Because while the Giants and Bills have their advantages too, Dallas is still the most likely place for Beckham to get everything he wants.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at