During the first 24 hours after Marc Malusis of WFAN reported that the Vikings and the Browns were discussing a potential trade that would have sent receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from Cleveland to Minnesota, the Browns had nothing to say. Since then, they’ve done whatever they can to make sure people (specifically, Beckham) believe there was nothing to it.
“I will just say it was completely false,” Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta told reporters on Thursday regarding the report of OBJ trade talks. “It is frustrating a little bit, obviously. I think it is pretty clear what we are trying to build at this point. We have done an awful lot in free agency. We are excited about what we have a chance to do in the draft, and we are really building around a core of players that we think have a chance to be a championship-caliber core. The idea that we would take away from that core at this moment just does not make a whole lot of sense and is really not something that we are exploring at all. It is completely false.”
OK, fine. It’s completely false. DePodesta said so on Thursday. So why then did someone leak to Adam Schefter of ESPN on Sunday the same stuff that DePodesta said three days ago?
“Source,” proclaimed Schefter on Twitter, “the Browns haven’t had any discussions this off-season about trading WR Odell Beckham Jr., despite all the speculation that Cleveland could move him. ‘That’s the truth,’ said team source.”
Well, if an unnamed team source hiding behind a veil of anonymity says it’s the truth, you can take that to the bank and try to cash it like it’s, well, a check without a signature on it.
(Some may wonder why Schefter agreed to pass along a clear and unequivocal denial from someone who wouldn’t attach his or her name to it. It’s called “playing the game.” And “playing the game” is critical to, for example, getting a head’s up on a transaction five minutes before it’s announced by the team.)
Malusis, for his part, reiterated his claim during his Friday show.
“What I reported did happen,” Malusis said. “I have not blinked. I contacted my source after I first reported it. His response was, ‘Hopefully you did not kill the deal.’ . . .
“By the way, do you really think Paul DePodesta is gonna come out and say, ‘Yes, we were engaged in trade conversations with the Minnesota Vikings’? Or, ‘Yes, we had actively pursued a deal of Odell Beckham Jr.’ or that he was on the trade market? A guy that is as sensitive as Beckham is, and I’ve defended him. But we do know this, Beckham wants to feel the love, from any organization that he’s playing for. . . . Do you think the Browns would ever admit it? . . . If the trade fell through and did not happen do you think Paul DePodesta would ever come out and say . . . that report was true?”
Of course DePodesta wouldn’t admit it, if it were true. And we’ve seen, time and again, teams deny reports like this only to later make the move. And then no one gets upset about it because they understand after the fact that the false denial was strategic and necessary.
So if everyone realizes after the fact that the team was in a must-lie situation, why do so many in the media accept a potential lie at face value before it’s exposed as a lie? Again, it’s called “playing the game,” and the game is played in many ways, whether it’s getting the text message five minutes before the announcement of the Beckham trade is made or receiving cooperation or access from the team that is happy with those who toe the party line, and upset with anyone who had the audacity to point at a pile of something brown and smelly and suggest that it’s quite possibly bullsh-t.