There was always a safe landing spot for Sterling Shepard, who existed the past three years as the other wide receiver on a Giants team dominated on the field and off it by Odell Beckham Jr. But then Beckham, 26, was traded to the Browns and Shepard, at 25, is now quite suddenly a focal point as a featured player and personality.
“I’m no longer a young guy,’’ Shepard said Friday. “I’m a vet now. This contract says a lot, so I’m going to handle it the right way.”
“This contract’’ is a four-year, $41 million extension, including $21.3 million in guaranteed money, linking Shepard to the Giants through the 2023 season. Beckham arrived in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft and Shepard came aboard in the second round in 2016. Beckham used to call his starting partner “Young Shep,’’ even though he was only one year older than Shepard.
No matter what Shepard did in amassing 190 receptions for 2,286 yards and 14 touchdowns the past three seasons, whatever Beckham did eclipsed everything in the Giants’ wide receiver orbit. Beckham missed the final 11 games in 2017 after suffering a fractured ankle and did not play in the final four games in 2018 because of a quad contusion. That time Beckham missed allowed Shepard to get a glimpse of what football life would be like without his superstar teammate.
“I’m ready,” Shepard told giants.com. “With Odell going down the last two seasons, that time definitely helped me get a grasp of what being a leader is all about, and being that lead guy in the room. I think it prepared me for this moment. I was pretty vocal anyway. I’m a pretty vocal guy. That will be no problem.’’
Shepard was headed into the final year of his four-year, $5.9 million rookie deal. In February, the Giants expressed interest in extending his deal and the contract was finalized in the past few days.
“I’m just excited,” Shepard said. “An opportunity to be in such a great place for another five years, it’s a blessing. I’m looking forward to this opportunity. I’m not going to put so much weight on my shoulders. I’m just going to attack every day like I have been.”
To offset — at least somewhat — the loss of Beckham, the Giants signed veteran Golden Tate to a four-year deal worth $37.5 million. Tate, 30, is the most accomplished receiver on a team that includes Shepard and a bunch of returning receivers re-signed by the Giants to raise the competition level in the spring and summer. Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman and Russell Shepard all were with the Giants in 2018, became free agents and were re-signed to modest deals.
“We have no shortage of talent,” Shepard said. “Those guys are ballers and they can get the job done. When they’re put in that position, they’re always going to execute. I have all the trust in those guys. I feel we’re going to pick up right where we left off. The last five games were the best games we played in the season. We just have to fine-tune some little things. Once we do that, we’ll be fine.”