NFL

Odell Beckham Jr. a free agent after going unclaimed on waivers

By Sports Desk November 09, 2021

Odell Beckham Jr. is free to pick his next team after clearing waivers Tuesday. 

The Cleveland Browns released the veteran wide receiver Monday and no other NFL team put in a claim on him before Tuesday's deadline, making him a free agent. 

ESPN has reported Beckham plans to sign with a playoff contender and several such teams likely will be interested. 

Beckham asked to be traded before last week's NFL deadline but no deal materialised and he skipped practice the rest of the week. 

That came after his father, Odell Beckham Sr., complained on social media about Beckham Jr.'s lack of involvement in the Browns' offence.

Beckham Sr. posted a lengthy video on Instagram showing a number of occasions on which Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield failed to find his team-mate.

Mayfield said after the Browns routed the Cincinnati Bengals 41-16 Sunday that he considers Beckham a "good friend" and wishes him well. 

The three-time Pro Bowler was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2020 and has made 17 catches for 232 yards and zero touchdowns in six games this season. 

Beckham was traded to the Browns by the New York Giants in 2019, where he topped 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons. The year he failed to hit that mark he spent most of the campaign out with an ankle injury. 

Julio Jones (103.8) and Antonio Brown (100.6) were the only wide receivers to average more yards per game than Beckham (92.8) between 2014 and 2018.

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    Joe Burrow is well placed to cope with one of the NFL's loudest venues as the Cincinnati Bengals look to spring a huge upset and keep their Super Bowl dream alive.

    That is the view of Bengals wider receiver Tyler Boyd as the Bengals prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

    The Chiefs are playing in their fourth straight AFC Championship Game and seeking to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl.

    Cincinnati have impressed in beating the Las Vegas Raiders and number one seed Tennessee Titans in the postseason so far.

    But they must now find another level to beat a Chiefs squad led by star quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the road, at a venue that is known for its vociferous home support. 

    "It's really tough," Boyd said about the challenge facing the Bengals at Arrowhead.

    "I think a lot of the guys and specifically Joe are kind of ready for that.

    "Because guys like him and [Ja'Marr] Chase and guys who played in the SEC [Southeastern Conference], they played against opponents where there were hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadium.

    "We're just going to have to be perfect on our hand signals and with the communication.

    "We've got to stay locked in and keep eyes on the quarterback and he'll just get us in the right calls and we'll know what we will be doing."

    The formidable Mahomes has reached the conference championship in all four of his seasons as a regular NFL starter.

    At 26 years old, he will become the youngest QB to start in four different conference championship games, beating the record of Donovan McNabb, who was 28 at the time of his fourth such game in 2004.

    But the Bengals and Burrow have hit form at the perfect time, a fine run that included winning in Week 17 against the Chiefs in a 34-31 thriller when they had home advantage.

    Burrow has been in electric form and threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns in that statement victory, while Chase dominated the Chiefs with 11 catches for 266 yards and three scores.

    That performance meant QB Burrow became the first player in NFL history with 400+ pass yards, 4+ pass TDs and zero INTs in consecutive games, having also done so in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens.

    Chase, meanwhile, broke the single-game rookie receiving yards record.

    The rookie caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards with 13 TDs in an incredible season, forming part of an impressive receiving corps with Tee Higgins (74 catches for 1,091 yards) and Boyd (67 and 828).

    Boyd agreed with recent assessments from coach Zac Taylor and Burrow that the unselfishness of the trio has been key to their success.

    "It's because we all know how good we are as a group," Boyd said of the receivers. "We all have great friendships and we all care for each other. We all know our value in the league and on this team.

    "So some games every guy can't get their rocks off when they want. Even when there are times where they probably have been open a few times and the ball is not coming their way.

    "But at the end of the day, we all trust Joe to throw it to the guy that's open or he feels like he has the best chance on that specific play."

    Now in his sixth season, Boyd is one of the longer-serving players in the Bengals roster having played 89 games, with this being his first postseason experience.

    He said: "I'm all about winning now. I didn't have a 1,000-yard receiving season. I did everything I could do early in my career. But now at this point, I just want to win.

    "I'm trying to get to and achieve the milestones that I've been wanting to reach early in my career.

    "Guys are coming in now like Ja'Marr Chase and all the other guys that are stepping foot into this organisation.

    "Joe Mixon and I and the other guys that have been here are replaying that voice in people's heads of what we want to be as a team. As a team perspective and not just single individual goals."

    Despite being underdogs, the Bengals are dreaming of a Super Bowl berth against the Los Angeles Rams or San Francisco 49ers.

    Boyd said: "It feels great now to say that we are collectively a great unit all around and knowing that we have a superior team now. We can go out there and beat any team.

    "I think in my lifetime [the Super Bowl] would probably be the biggest milestone for me, the best achievement in my whole sports career.

    "That's the reason why I've been playing. I have been through a heck of a roller coaster ride, ups and downs and injuries and things like that.

    "It's just like a dream come true. You wake up, then you're playing in the Super Bowl and you win and you talk Disney World and you have your kids and your family on the field.

    "It's kind of a surreal feeling that I would love and want to go through. To even be a part of playing in some historic game, it would mean everything."

  • Stafford insists Rams do not have mental block against 49ers Stafford insists Rams do not have mental block against 49ers

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford insists his teammates do not have a mental block when it comes to beating the San Francisco 49ers.

    The two teams will do battle on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, with the winners to face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

    Stafford, who had never previously won a playoff game in the NFL, has led the Rams to victories over the Arizona Cardinals and defending champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reach this stage.

    The Rams finished ahead of the Cardinals and the 49ers to win the NFC West this season and go into the game at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl - as narrow favourites.

    But that status comes despite the Rams having struggled against their divisional rivals in recent seasons. The Niners have won the last six meetings, including both of the regular season clashes in 2021.

    In Week 18, the Rams led 17-0 before the Niners stormed back to win 27-24 in overtime and book their place in the playoffs as a wildcard team.

    Stafford has only played in the two most recent games in the six-game streak but was asked if his teammates had a mental block against San Francisco.

    "No, we just have got to go out there and play good football," he said.

    "We had our chances last time we played them to win the game, whether it was a four-minute situation for us on offense, a two-minute situation on defense and we still had a shot in overtime as well. 

    "It's a really good football team. It's two really good football teams going after each other, seen each other twice this year, we’re going to see each other for a third time. 

    "Not a bunch of secrets. Just who can step up to the plate and make the plays when we need to make them."

    Stafford has found the build-up to the NFC Championship Game more normal than for the Rams' previous two postseason clashes.

    "Obviously excited about the opportunity, but going about it kind of as a normal week - it’s the first normal week we've had in a little bit," said the former Detroit Lions QB.

    "We played the first playoff game on a Monday and the second one on a short week, so this one just feels like a normal week during the season.

    "Obviously a lot at stake. We know that we’re playing a really good opponent that's playing as good a football as anybody in the NFL right now. So it'll be a big challenge for us."

    Rams head coach Sean McVay was this week forced to deny Niners boss Kyle Shanahan – who worked with him in Washington - was in his head.

    "No," insisted McVay. "What I do have is respect for these guys. They've done a great job. 

    "You look at it, you got to play well in that three-and-a-half-hour window that we're allotted. You look at the last time that we played them, we didn't finish the game. 

    "This is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them. We're competing and preparing to the best of our ability to go out and see if we can advance. 

    "But this is a really good team. Kyle is an excellent coach. They have great players, great coaches, good schemes. It's why they're in the NFC Championship."

    Shanahan, meanwhile, felt McVay should not have been asked the question.

    Asked if he enjoyed the narrative, the Niners coach replied: "Not really. I think that's kind of silly. A question like that is giving Sean and myself way too much credit.

    "We're coaches. Watch what's going on out on that field and some of the players out there and the people that are competing.

    "To think that it's about Sean and I... I know that he doesn't feel that way and he knows that I don't feel that way.

    "The entertainment of this business is cool and stuff, because it brings a lot of fans and makes a lot of money for everybody, but I think that's pretty ridiculous. I don't give coaches that much credit."

    Getting wide receiver Cooper Kupp involved is likely to be key for the Rams after he became the first player to win the NFL receiving triple crown since 2005 this season. 

    He followed that achievement by putting up 183 receiving yards against Tampa Bay, which was second-most in a playoff game in Rams history behind Tom Fears in the 1950 Divisional Round (198). 

    Per Stats Perform data, the Rams have never lost a game, regular or postseason, when Kupp has at least 125 receiving yards (9-0).

  • Shanahan defends Garoppolo ahead of NFC Championship showdown with Rams Shanahan defends Garoppolo ahead of NFC Championship showdown with Rams

    Kyle Shanahan insists under-fire San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo deserves more recognition for helping his team to the NFC Championship Game.

    The Niners will travel to face NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday as they bid to reach a second Super Bowl in three years.

    They need two straight wins at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl on February 13 – to make history.

    The play of Garoppolo has come under scrutiny in the playoffs despite San Francisco's advance.

    In their two wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, he had zero touchdowns and two interceptions, with passing yard totals of 172 and 131 respectively.

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    But head coach Shanahan believes the public support shown by Garoppolo's teammates such as George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner and Nick Bosa speaks volumes for his contribution.

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    Garoppolo also led the Niners to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season, resulting in an agonising loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

    He could only play in six games last season as the whole Niners roster was decimated with injuries but led the team in 15 regular season contests in 2021.

    "Jimmy is one of the main reasons we're here," insisted Shanahan.

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    "But Jimmy's a very good quarterback - he doesn't worry about any of that stuff. He doesn't worry about social media. That's why he's a little similar to me.

    "He never really changes, and I think that's what people respect the most about him.

    "He's gone through some ups and downs while he's been here, like most quarterbacks do, but he's the same guy. And that's why people, first and foremost, respect him as a human, as a person.

    "And then the way that he goes and battles on the field, everyone knows how tough he is, everyone knows how hard he'll compete running with the ball and our guys also know he can throw pretty well too."

    Garoppolo, who arrived in a trade from the New England Patriots in 2017, has a similar view about outside critics.

    Asked if he had a strategy to cope, he said: "Well, friends, family, they always seem to remind me of those things, but I don’t know.

    "Just knowing yourself and knowing who you are plays a big part of that, because if you get lost in it and start believing some of those things, it could take you down the wrong road.

    "So I don’t know, I think it’s just about knowing yourself as a player, as a person, and as long as these guys in this locker room have faith in me and belief in me, that is all I really care about."

    The Niners have won six straight games over the Rams in their regular-season series, with a dramatic comeback 27-24 overtime victory over LA in Week 18 getting them into the playoffs as a wildcard team.

    But it is NFC West champions the Rams who go into the contest as narrow favourites having knocked off defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round.

    The 49ers, meanwhile, won 13-10 in Green Bay despite failing to score an offensive touchdown.

    They were just the ninth team ever to win a playoff game in that way - NFL teams were previously 8-103 in playoff games without a scrimmage touchdown.

    Avoiding turnovers is going to be critical. The Rams are 8-0 this year when Matthew Stafford does not throw an interception, while the 49ers are 7-0 when Garoppolo does not throw a pick.

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