The 21st century has seen the NFL embark on a dauntless quest to dominate every headline, to transform into a 24-hour, 365-day behemoth that dominates every month of the calendar. Some players succeed in carrying out that mission, although some headlines are likely far from the ones the league would prefer to see.
Who are the most controversial players in the NFL today?
Odell Beckham Jr., LA Rams
Even though Beckham wrote a bit of a redemption story through the Los Angeles Rams' run to Super Bowl LVI (scoring the game's first touchdown before departing with an injury), his postseason success wasn't enough for some to forget his prior supposed transgressions, which included civil wars with his previous employers in Cleveland and New York. While Beckham was slightly vindicated in the former case (more on that in a minute), metropolitan football fans continue to partly blame Beckham for playing a role in the Giants' modern freefall, one that indirectly began when he and his fellow receivers embarked on a South Beach boating adventure shortly before an ultimately futile playoff trip to Green Bay.
Antonio Brown, free agent
Brown's act is on hiatus after his uncanny exit from Tampa Bay, which saw him remove his upper equipment and leave the field while play was in progress during a January victory over the New York Jets. It had grown tired long before then, as the receiver's disruptions routinely proved to be far beyond the trouble he was worth. Things began harmlessly enough in Pittsburgh, where Brown transformed himself into one of the NFL's best receivers and became well-known for his lively celebrations. However, things took a sour turn when he live-streamed the aftermath of the Steelers' 2017 AFC Divisional playoff win over Kansas City on his social media accounts. Further strife within the organization eventually forced a trade to Oakland.
Further controversies, including a reported confrontation with general manager Mike Mayock, ended his Raider career before it truly began. Allegations of sexual misconduct marred a single-game tenure in New England before he eventually reunited with on-again, off-again enemy Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. Despite his release, Brown has no intentions of moving on from the NFL: he expressed hope in a recent interview that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would "harness some of (his) energy."
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
By new century Cleveland Browns standards, Baker Mayfield is a godsend. But after granting them a taste of the good life at the end of the 2020-21 season through a playoff victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, things came to a crashing halt last year. A polarizing figure from the moment he entered the NFL as 2018's top overall draft pick, as some remained wary that character concerns would follow him from Oklahoma, Mayfield was labeled the primary reason for the Browns' regression, a phenomenon brought about by Beckham's father, of all people. The Browns confirmed that Mayfield played parts of the 2021 season with a shoulder issue, and they appear more than willing to give him one more chance. However, he could be lingering on thin ice.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
This week, the Rodgers roadshow was renewed after a brief speculation period, removing the "last dance" implications from last season and its disappointing ending in the NFC Divisional playoffs. At first glance, Rodgers has a straightforward story to root for and believe in as a first-round pick that was scorned on NFL Draft day to the tune of falling to the 24th overall selection after some speculated that he could be the top choice before becoming the lasting successor of the legendary Brett Favre (who was no stranger to controversy himself). But Rodgers' eventful personal life, highlighted by some unusual family drama that came to light during his younger brother Jordan's appearance on "The Bachelor," has raised some eyebrows. Rodgers became an even more polarizing figure this season when his COVID-19 vaccination status...or lack thereof...was thrust into the spotlight. The two-time defending NFL MVP's claim that he was "immunized" from the virus was often repeated by his critics, who were not pleased with the relative lack of consequences as well as their claims that Rodgers was trying to play the victim.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
So much has transpired, both on the field and off of it, since the end of the 2020 NFL regular season. That marks the last time Deshaun Watson appeared in a professional football game, one that saw him lead the league in passing yardage (4,823), a silver lining during the Houston Texans' dreary 12-loss season. It wasn't enough to convince Watson to stick around for an overhaul, as he demanded a trade shortly after the season's end. But as a stand-off ensued, allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. Though he was not injured and partook in OTA and training camp practices on a limited basis, Watson did play a single game during the 2021 season as the legal process played out. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, some form of clarity on the situation could emerge by the end of this week, as the team nonetheless remains interested in Watson's services.