Odell Beckham Jr. is coming to Green Bay. Just not in the way some might be hoping.
The Packers have reportedly reached an agreement to host the Cleveland Browns and their star wideout for joint practices next summer during their 2020 training camp, “barring unforeseen circumstances,” according to PackersNews.com. Head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed earlier this week at the NFL Scouting Combine the Packers would be practicing with another team in the preseason as they did in 2019, but he couldn’t divulge the identity of the team at the time.
Now, it would appear Beckham, Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett will all be practicing on the same field as Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers and Za’Darius Smith when next August rolls around in what figures to be a massive gathering of NFL star power.
“It’s good to change the scenery a little bit and go against a different scheme,” LaFleur said. “You try not to scheme up your own team on a daily basis. It’s more or less about you trying to build on your foundation and get good at core concepts that you’re going to run throughout the season, really at all three phases.”
The Packers held joint practices for the first time since 2005 last year when they hosted the Houston Texans for two days ahead of the teams’ Aug. 8 preseason opener at Lambeau Field. Meanwhile, the Browns traveled to Indianapolis for a pair of practices with the Colts.
The official announcement of the 2020 joint practices could take a few more months, especially as teams wait to see if a new collective bargaining agreement will reduce the workload of the offseason. The joint sessions also wouldn’t necessarily guarantee an exhibition game between the two teams, as a new collective bargaining agreement could reduce the preseason to just three games to compensate for a 17-game regular season.
“It’s one less opportunity, so I think we’ll have to be a little bit more creative with how we stage things for evaluation purposes,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Tuesday about the potential of losing a preseason game. “Last year, we had some joint practices for the first time in a long time and I think those were really helpful. It was a way for our guys to get the reps that they needed against a quality opponent, taking some risk factors away.”
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Joint Practices Tend to Get Tense
The Packers’ joint sessions last year received mixed reviews from Packers players with quarterback Aaron Rodgers — a reputable hater of the preseason — among the most notable against the concept. There was also the matter of an on-field fight breaking out between both teams after Texans safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. took a cheap shot at Packers rookie Jace Sternberger.
“I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t do it for another 14 years,” Rodgers told reporters last year.
The Browns’ trip to Indy wasn’t exactly drama-free, either. Tensions spiked and incidents broke out between the players on both days with Browns linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong and a Colts player at one point trading punches. Former head coach Freddie Kitchens had implored his players to show intensity in their joint practices with the Colts.
“Message was received,” Beckham said after one of the sessions. “We came here to impose our will the same way we would do in the regular season when it comes up.”
Fights have become a common occurrence in joint practices as they have begun to rise in popularity over the past few preseasons. There were more than half a dozen reported during the 2018 preseason, a trend that would need to change if joint practices were to become a replacement for a subtracted preseason game.