Usually when a player pops off to the media, fans tend to rally around the team and against the payer. Judging on the response thus far to the suspension of Cleveland Browns’ tight end Kellen Winslow by general manager Phil Savage, the team isn’t exactly winning this dirty little war. It’s hardly surprising. Fans are smarter than the club would like to think.
One wonders, actually, what Savage really was thinking in taking on Winslow when he’s distanced himself so many times from the equally detrimental acts of receiver Braylon Edwards. It’s possible that Savage views Winslow as a habitual offender and thus it was time to ratchet up the club’s response. It’s just a possible, though, that Savage did this in a vain attempt to keep a lid on a pot that is near full boil.
If it’s the former, Savage certainly could have found a better way to handle the matter. Keeping it in house, as he wanted Winslow to do, comes to mind as the most obvious option. If it’s the latter, it probably won’t work. By trying to quell a distraction he’s made it more so. But whichever it is, Savage came off looking rather small, petty and thin-skinned, not to mention cowardly by simply releasing a statement rather than talking to the media directly.
And what of that statement? Carefully written by the Browns’ public relations department, it parses words to leave the impression that Winslow is being just a bit dishonest about who decided to keep this latest staph episode quiet. But read the words carefully. Savage never claims it was Winslow’s decision or even his suggestion. Instead he just lays it out there for people to assume, saying “…following discussions with Kellen Winslow and his representation, the Browns agreed to make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of his recent medical condition.” Agreed with whom, Winslow or among themselves? Kudos to the staffer who wrote it.
The real issues in Savage’s mind is that Winslow went public with his complaints as if he violated some sort of “team first” credo that Savage has been working so darn hard on creating,. In truth, Savage appears embarrassed for having conspired to keep from his own players the fact that staph had once again reared its ugly head at the team’s facilities. In that sense, Winslow is being punished as a whistleblower to a matter Savage certainly would rather have kept quiet, even if that silence was fueling one outrageous internet rumor after another about Winslow. By taking it out on Winslow, all Savage really did was bring more attention, more “unjustified negative attention” to himself and the organization in the process.
Lost in all of this is a more basic set of questions. What really was so “disparaging” about Winslow’s comments or brought “unjustified negative attention” to the organization? For that matter, let’s start with what was untrue? The Browns have a problem rooting out staph infections. It may not be a problem confined to the Browns, but it is a problem with the Browns and their facilities nonetheless. By most reports, there have been six or seven relatively recent episodes of staph involving such high profile players as Winslow, LeCharles Bentley, Joe Jurevicius,. Stating a fact that is already a part of the public record hardly strikes me as unjustified.
Was it untrue that Savage didn’t call Winslow while he was in the hospital? Savage doesn’t deny it. If Savage finds that disparaging it’s only because it revealed publicly a personality flaw in Savage that he would rather have kept quiet. While this may sound like a small matter, let’s keep in mind that this is the second time Savage has been called out for this sort of insensitivity. As Terry Pluto reported earlier this summer, when LeCharles Bentley was hospitalized for his staph infection, he too was hurt that Savage never called. Savage supposedly admitted this was a mistake and that he should have made some calls. Yet here we have it again. If indeed Savage punished Winslow for being a habitual offender, isn’t that sort of like a nerd telling the hippie his clothes look weird?
The only thing left, then, is Winslow’s contention that the Browns were trying to keep his infection quiet in order to allay concerns among the rest of the team, which we now know was true. Was this disparaging because it made the Browns’ look bad, like they were hiding something unflattering? Perhaps but why is that Winslow’s fault? It’s hardly a stretch to think that the Browns front office might have some motivation in not acknowledging publicly that still another player had still another staph infection. If you were a free agent, might not you be a little nervous about the cleanliness of the Browns’ facilities?
There’s no reason not to take the Browns at their word that they are doing everything within their power to control staph infections. There certainly is no reason for them to look the other way on a serious health issue and every reason, in fact, to confront it directly. But if they are somehow worried that Winslow shined a light on an unflattering fact about the organization, they need not be. The staph problems are well known. Besides, there’s plenty of other things going wrong in Berea to distract one’s attention.
Lost in all of the turmoil was any sort of coherent explanation of how exactly keeping Winslow away from the Browns’ complex for a week makes either Winslow or the team better? Maybe that’s necessary to carry out a suspension, but didn’t Savage have a better option, like having Crennel bench Winslow for the game but otherwise make him participate in practice for the week?
The suspension of Winslow gives Savage a chance to test a theory he’s obviously floated to some of the local reporters he has in his pocket—that this team is actually better off without Winslow. I see no compelling need to address this issue again this week, but do see a compelling need to remind Savage, if not the fans that are buying into this bit of propaganda, that a team with a real talent deficit like the Browns can never be better off by letting one of its best players get away.
Winslow’s outburst last Sunday notwithstanding, he simply is not a distraction, at least to the extent where one could reasonably conclude that his absence constitutes addition by subtraction.
Moving on for a moment from Winslow and on to something more mundane, it will be interesting to see how long it takes Savage to realize that quarterback Derek Anderson is Kelly Holcomb revisited. Holcomb, like Anderson, fascinated general managers and offensive coordinators alike with a strong arm and a penchant for occasionally playing really well.
Browns fans remember less than six years ago when Holcomb threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns and almost singlehandedly beat Pittsburgh in a playoff game. In spot duty that season subbing for Tim Couch, Holcomb had 8 touchdowns in four games, only four interceptions, and completed over 60% of his passes.
The next season, with a chance to be the starter for an extended period of time, Holcomb couldn’t quite live up to that promise. Still, he did enough to maintain enough of a mystique that took him to Buffalo as a free agent, where he remained long on promise that ultimately was never fully realized. After bouncing around the league for 12 seasons, he had a mostly undistinguished career.
Anderson is following that script almost to the letter, but either Savage doesn’t want to see it or Savage wants to think he’s smart enough to avoid the inevitable outcome of misplaced faith. But the longer Savage continues to delude himself into thinking that Anderson will eventually develop into Tom Brady (and hence make Savage look like a genius in the process), the more likely that he’ll divest the team of a quarterback in Brady Quinn who has a more realistic chance of actually being able to deliver on the promise of an actual pedigree.
This week’s question to ponder: If/when the Browns and Romeo Crennel part ways, does Crennel ever get another head coaching job in the NFL?