We don’t get too many opportunities to watch a bunch of NFL superstars shoot the shit. But after Odell Beckham Jr. organized and released on Monday another one of his The Bigger Picture, an exclusive conversation that most recently featured the Browns wide out, Cam Newton, Todd Gurley, and Victor Cruz, we were blessed with an hour’s worth of raw and completely unvarnished opinions about football and life from the three current players and ESPN NFL analyst.

Moderated by Cruz, the foursome chopped it up at 40Love, a tennis-themed bar and restaurant in West Hollywood, and did not pull any punches when talk turned to the pandemic, the perception of Beckham vs. reality, and why it took so long for Newton to sign with a team. But what were the highlights from the hour-long sitdown? Well, Beckham claiming he thought about walking away from the game a few years ago is a great place to start…

Beckham thought about retirement in 2017

It sounds crazy, but Beckham said he thought about walking abandoning football after the 2017 season when he broke his ankle.

“I said this in college, I fear the day that they make this game a business and not what I love,” Beckham said. “When I seen that the first time, after breaking my ankle, I thought about not playing no more. This is really it for me because they ruined the game of football for me.”

The losing, the injuries, and the negative press during his days in New York got to Beckham and when he broke the ankle, it nearly boiled over. Now instead of trying to shut up the haters who have clowned on the ultra-talented receiver for his on-the-field antics over the years, Beckham said he’s fueled by his fans and followers that love his energy and want him to show off more of his personality.

“When I be on the sideline and that little kid says, ‘Do The Whip dance’ that shit fuels me,” Beckham said.

Beckham, who has bristled over the years at fans and media members who have argued he’s been a bigger distraction than difference-maker, said he had previously tried to be less animated on the football field to appease his critics.

“That roar that I have, being the person that I was, it was too much for people. So I was trying to tone it down,” Beckham said.

In 2020, he promises you’ll see more of the old Odell. For starters, the blonde hair is back.

“You are Dennis Rodman mixed with the MJ,” Newton said. “I’m like Bro, don’t change. What’s that going to get you?”

Beckham also said he struggled with mental health issues and depression during his days with the Giants when he felt the media frequently misconstrued his words and portrayed him unfairly.

“When they took my authenticity and fucked me over with it, I couldn’t deal with that,” Beckham said. “When I’m giving you real insight yet I’m seeing the articles and you’re shitting on me, it make me not want to be that. So I ran into bigger problems with the fucking world than myself. And I struggled to deal with that.”

Cam Newton thinks the pandemic stunted his free agency

Looking resplendent as ever smoking a fat cigar and sporting a crisp, grey polo and one of those massive custom hats we’re used to seeing him rock on gamedays, Newton reflected on the reason it took so long for him to sign a 1-year deal with the Patriots earlier this month.

“My personal story, I was affected professionally, personally, and in ways that obviously me being a free agent for as long I was it was because of corona,” Newton said. “I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t go to teams, there was a lot of uncertainty.”

Newton gave a shoutout to “his dawg” Future and the rapper’s iconic mixtape 56 Nights since it reminded Newton how he spent 86 nights as a free agent, struggling to comprehend how so many other players signed deals before he did.

“I’m going through it and early on people are going and getting signed,” Newton said. “You can’t say I’m old because people older than me are getting signed. You can’t say it’s about injuries because people more injured than me are getting signed. You can’t say the talent.”

Newton acknowledged he “hasn’t put the best film on” the last two seasons, but “there’s other people who have been putting out shitty film that’s getting picked up.” The disrespect, he said, was real until Bill Belichick and the Patriots plucked him from the free agency bin.

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers walks on the sideline
Image via Getty/Lachlan Cunningham

“I feel vindicated to some degree,” Newton said. “But I’m aiming, I’m going at necks all year.”

The likely frontrunner to win the starting job for Week 1, Newton will have the unenviable task of replacing the legend Tom Brady. But the 31-year-old Newton knows he brings something to the table TB12 never could.

“What he was, what is, is great,” Newton said. “But one thing about it, though: [offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels, you’re able to call some stuff that you ain’t never been able to call now.”

As the pandemic continues, players are seriously concerned for their safety

Training camps are supposed to open up around the NFL in a few weeks. But we haven’t heard any word about how the league is going to protect players, coaches, and staff from COVID-19. And considering all the uncertainty still surrounding the virus, its behavior, and its potential long-term side effects, it has Beckham, Gurley, and Newton predictably worried.

“You don’t have the answers, you’re going off of the scientists, these guests,” Beckham said. “It’s our lives at risk. You’re not about to give us no extra money. There’s so many things that are going into it. It’s just tough when it’s this invisible boogey man, this coronavirus.”

“They’re trying to make football happen. And to me, with everything that’s going on, what does that say about our country that this is that important that this needs to start up when there’s no plan for us?”

Newton said he personally knows people that have contracted the virus and expressed real concern over the return of football.

“For us, our sport, you pass DNA off,” Newton said about the likelihood of players infecting other players.

If the NFL season kicks off without any issues, it likely starts without fans in the stands and that’s going to be a little weird.

“It’s going to be hard playing with no fans,” Beckham said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that you just have to come to an agreement with yourself,” Gurley said.

Players will continue to carry the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement into the season

It’s always easier said than done, especially since this is the NFL we’re talking about here, but Beckham, Gurley, and Newton all said they plan to do their part to make sure the tough conversations and calls for systemic change—in the league and throughout society—continue to reverberate once the season rolls around. 

“We gotta apply pressure as players,” Gurley said. “It’s time for us to make sure these high-power organizations are doing something for a cause. Whatever it is. Especially African-Americans, whatever…football, basketball, baseball, we have the platform, the opportunity, and they don’t have a choice but to give us that right now because they owe it to us.”

While Gurley said he’s normally one to do things on his own, he plans on being more vocal around the Falcons to make sure his new team is participating in conversations and organizing and supporting actionable endeavors that lead to change around the Atlanta community.

“A lot of these, whatever, companies, NFL, they say they care—yeah it’s cool to throw a check, but get your ass out there and actually do something,” Gurley said.  

Gurley is in the best shape of his life

You hear it every year during training camp—a player coming off a disappointing season rededicated himself, changed his body to get in the best shape possible for the new season, and is out to prove wrong all the doubters.

That cliché applies to the 25-year-old Gurley. Surprisingly cut by the Rams during the off-season after two consecutive subpar seasons, largely due to injuries, Gurley’s out to re-establish himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL.

“I haven’t worked out this much in my life. There hasn’t been nothing to do but workout,” Gurley said.

Joining the Falcons this upcoming season, Gurley couldn’t be more hyped to be back in Georgia, where he starred for the Bulldogs, and also take advantage of the opportunities that will present itself around the city of Atlanta. “It’s like Black Hollywood for me,” Gurley said.