Browns try to help Winslow recoup financial losses
BEREA, Ohio -- As Kellen Winslow II slowly heals from a serious motorcycle accident, the Cleveland Browns want to make sure their relationship with the injured tight end hasn't suffered permanent damage.
Earlier this month, the club declined to pay Winslow a $2 million roster bonus because he violated a "dangerous activities" clause in his contract when he wrecked his high-powered motorcycle on May 1 while practicing stunts in a parking lot.
|“||We are currently discussing a structure that includes the ability where he can earn the lion's share of what he could have made. We want to make sure we don't cause a problem and that they don't cause a problem and we're doing that in good faith. ”|
|— Browns owner Randy Lerner|
Winslow, who played in just two games as a rookie before breaking his leg, could have been killed in the crash and sustained several injuries, including a torn knee ligament that required season-ending surgery.
But along with forgiving Winslow for his mistake, the Browns still believe he can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player and have generously offered him a chance to earn back the money they've withheld.
The club is offering to restructure Winslow's contract, allowing him to recoup some of his financial losses.
"We are currently discussing a structure that includes the ability where he can earn the lion's share of what he could have made," owner Randy Lerner said following Saturday's morning practice.
Lerner said the club has had "productive" meetings with Winslow, his family and agents Kevin and Carl Poston to resolve what has been a sensitive issue for the team.
Since the accident, some outraged Cleveland fans have wanted the Browns to cut Winslow for his irresponsibility while others think he should return all the money he has been paid since being taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft.
The team's approach is somewhere in between.
"Kellen and his family have been very communicative and very direct and we are working through it," Lerner said. "We have had a lot of meetings and the goal is to try and avoid a situation that doesn't work out and doesn't give him an opportunity to make a difference for the team.
"We want to make sure we don't cause a problem and that they don't cause a problem and we're doing that in good faith."
Winslow, whose salary is just $350,000 this season, is due another $950,000 bonus on Dec. 15 and $2.4 million on July 15, 2006. The Browns have been assured that Winslow, who turned 22 on July 21 and is signed through 2009, will make a 100 percent recovery and be the impact player they envisioned when drafting him.
Lerner has deferred to first-year general manager Phil Savage in deciding on which route to take with Winslow.
Lerner realizes there was a danger of sending the wrong message if the Browns hadn't penalized Winslow for his careless act. If they had stood by and not invoked their protective clause, the Browns would appear to be giving in.
"You definitely take the teeth out of it [the clause] if you do nothing other than say come back and make the same amount of money," Lerner said. "But I don't think the new proposal does that. I think the new proposal defends the Browns and it's rights. But it also offers up the opportunity for the player. It is a restructured, fresh look at the new facts. It is not us laying down."
Last week, Winslow pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of failure to control his vehicle. He was fined $150, court costs and got two points on his Ohio driver's license.
Following his accident, Winslow issued a halfhearted apology in which he said he was sorry to Browns fans and that is was "unwise to attempt to learn to ride a motorcycle without a professional instructor in a controlled environment."
Lerner said he wasn't bothered by Winslow's comments.
"I am a believer that Kellen is very well intentioned," Lerner said. "He's a hard worker. He's here every single day training and rehabbing. I therefore have chosen not to hang on to his every word or overinterpret what he might have said at a moment when he was shaken up and disappointed that he's not going to be able to play."
As they're being rebuilt for the third time since 1999, the Browns are attempting to bring in players of high character. Lerner was asked if he viewed Winslow's accident as a youthful mistake or a character flaw.
Lerner paused for 30 seconds before answering.
"I see it as a mistake," he said, "and it's a mistake that can be understood without getting into heavy character flaws."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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