Winslow's career could be permanently damaged

After a remarkable display of immaturity, Kellen Winslow's future with the Browns is extremely uncertain.

Updated: May 19, 2005, 6:35 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

In life, for the most part, you reap what you sow. In the NFL, however, there are those occasions when you are forced to deal with the weeds cultivated by your predecessor.

And so, even as the Cleveland Browns' rookie tandem of general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel continues trying to grow the franchise in the right direction again, there will be times when the efforts are choked off by the flawed crops nurtured in the recent past.

Which brings us, not all that surprisingly, to tight end Kellen Winslow.

Assuming that the news reports are accurate, and that Winslow has suffered damage to his right knee sufficient enough to sideline him for the entire 2005 season, his lack of maturity can only be deemed staggering. In endangering his career by strapping himself to a motorcycle, the specific model of which has been alternately nicknamed the "crotch rocket" and the "donor wagon," Winslow displayed a dearth of common sense.

Now his right knee, which figures to require extensive repair work, likely will display a long, ugly scar.

Will those surgical sutures, the graphic and lifelong reminder of a joy ride that was transformed into a tragic lapse of judgment, forever alter Winslow's approach to life and to his livelihood? Time will tell. Should the events of the past few weeks dramatically change the manner in which the Cleveland organization views a player who saw himself as a football messiah? Quite clearly, the answer is yes.

Remember, this is a player who was supposed to redefine the tight end position, just as his Hall of Fame father had done a generation ago. Instead, the younger Winslow might never be even a reasonable facsimile of his old man now, having opted instead to redefine irresponsibility. The second incarnation, indeed, looks like a cloning experiment gone amok.

Suddenly, the self-proclaimed "soldier," who will have played just two games during his first two seasons in the league, looks more like a soldier of misfortune. The "Warrior" is wounded, "The Chosen One" a chucklehead. There are no guarantees now that Winslow won't be simply the latest first-round bust for a franchise whose new football regime is trying to bury the history of past drafts.

And, for that, Kellen Winslow ought to be busted.

In the ever-raging psychobabble debate over whether human beings are most shaped by nature or nurture, Winslow is Exhibit A for the centrists who claim to discern the tugging influences of both elements. For most of his formative years, Winslow was nurtured with the lesson that he was special, one of a kind. Little wonder, then, that it became defiantly second nature for him to view himself that way.

It would be fashionable to place blame on his family. Or to assign culpability to departed Cleveland coach Butch Davis, who first recruited Winslow to the University of Miami, then invested the fifth overall selection in the 2004 draft in the tight end. But there were others who created a culture of entitlement around Winslow, who lifted him even higher than the lofty perch on which he positioned himself, and they can't simply escape blame.

Flash back to last summer, his first NFL training camp, when the Browns' organization fawned over its first-rounder despite his tardiness because of a contract dispute. Here was a player who was to carry the franchise, right? Instead, a club functionary regularly toted Winslow's helmet and shoulder pads off the field for him after practice. That went over big, we can tell you, with his older teammates. The media hung on every syllable Winslow uttered because his words were so sparse. And that's because the organization required him to be available for interviews only once a week, a privilege customarily reserved for those who actually have accomplished something in their NFL careers.

Winslow was insulated by more bubble wrap than a priceless Ming vase being shipped cross-country. His overinflated opinion of himself was further pumped by a pervasive air that suggested he was, indeed, "The Chosen One" he purported to be. Pump any balloon too full of hot air and, by nature, it sails off on its own breezes. It cavorts to its own thing, meanders in whatever direction the current takes it.

Chances are that, provided the opportunity, Savage and Crennel would have punctured the inflated Winslow ego. Unfortunately, a concrete curb in a Westlake, Ohio, parking lot, where Winslow was motorcycling in indisputable breach of his contract, beat them to it.

It is one thing to play with reckless abandon – a long-admired football quality, and one that Winslow demonstrated during the second game of last season when he went aggressively after an onside kick and ended up breaking his leg. But there is an integral and essential difference between reckless abandon and recklessness, the latter of which is what Winslow displayed when he hopped on that motorcycle.

His professional football career now might be little more than one big wheelie, in the air one minute, on the skids the next.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding Winslow's future and that of the franchise's investment – there are those who have suggested that, under the best-case scenario, Winslow will miss just the 2005 campaign – the new Browns' football regime needs to take a stand. That is not to suggest the team should attempt to recover the entire $9.4 million in signing and option bonuses to which it is contractually entitled if Cleveland is deprived of Winslow's services in '05. Still, if Winslow forfeited nearly two weeks of training camp last summer while Browns president John Collins fought to have such default language included in the contract, what was the point if those contract stipulations are rendered meaningless?

If the Browns sincerely believe Winslow someday will emerge as the player they envisioned when they selected him in 2004, they won't terminate his contract. Instead, they should attempt, with the Winslow family and agents Kevin and Carl Poston, to define some middle ground. Recover a portion of the bonus money – let's say the $4.4 million option bonus and $1 million of his $6 million signing bonus (the prorated share for 2005) – and provide Winslow the opportunity to earn it back by reaching some performance levels in future years.

It would be a fair and balanced resolution. Fair and balanced, it should be noted, being two qualities Winslow hasn't exactly demonstrated to his employers.

When you proclaim yourself, rather loudly, "The Chosen One," that hyperbolic handle should suggest that you are a choosey one, as well, that you know the basic difference between right and wrong and are prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. To this point, given his deeds, Winslow has done little to confirm he deserves either that lofty title or the benefit of the doubt.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

ALSO SEE