Friday, February 27, 2009

Lingering Items--Disgruntled Edition

Shaun Rogers is unhappy and somewhere a Detroit Lions fan is smiling. So is a New York Jets fan.

If reports are true then Rogers, a Pro Bowl defensive lineman acquired last year in a trade with the Lions, is unhappy about perceived snubs at the hands of new head coach Eric Mangini. He’s also apparently miffed about a memo he (and presumably others) received about the team’s upcoming workouts in mid-March. Rogers, a player who always has teetered on this side or that of being overweight, was told to make sure he reports for the workouts at his playing weight. Rogers supposedly is upset because he managed to stay on the right side of the weight line all last season while putting together one of the few bright spot seasons for the team.

If anyone is surprised at this development, they shouldn’t be. In the first place, and without trying to be overly technical in the analysis, Rogers is a whiner. He comes by his nickname, Big Baby, honestly. The term often used for players like Rogers is that he “wore out his welcome.” The problem in Detroit, actually, was not so much that he wore it out but that he forced the issue, a problem that ultimately will surface in Cleveland.

Rogers was a key reason why the Lions got off to a 6-2 start in 2007. He was also a key reason the Lions cratered in the second half and didn’t make the playoffs. Rogers, reportedly overweight and disgruntled, spent the second half sleepwalking. It’s not clear what set him off then but maybe it had something to do with not having enough whipped cream for his ho-hos. Whatever it was, though, it grew to the point that the Lions felt that his leaving would be addition by subtracting. So did the fans.

Now the Lions don’t necessarily have the best track record when it comes to making personnel decisions, so it was easy to conclude that this was at least as much a Lions issue as a Rogers issue. And what is it that they always say when someone has “worn out his welcome?” Oh, yea, all he needs is a “change of scenery.”

Rogers got that in Cleveland and responded under the gentle hand of former Browns’ head coach Romeo Crennel. All seemed well enough, in fact, until Crennel was fired and Mangini hired. To say that Mangini carries with him a much different reputation for interpersonal relationships than Crennel does is a tad understated, which is why the Jets fans that wanted Mangini fired are smiling as well. In their view, if not Rogers it would have been someone else. Mangini carries with him that same chip that his mentor Bill Belichick still does. Not having ever played in the league themselves, they overcompensate by constantly reminding everyone around that they are in charge.

The grapevine is as alive and well in the locker rooms of the NFL as it is in your office. Well before Mangini ordered the first can of paint for the Berea offices, Rogers and the rest of the squad had their version of the inside scoop on him. It’s in that context that the rest of the story must be viewed.

Rogers’ first non-encounter with his new head coach came at a charity function in Cleveland. Both Rogers and Mangini were present, reportedly almost physically ran into each other, but neither bothered to acknowledge the other. In what appears to have been a bit of a Mexican standoff by way of middle school girl sleepover drama, both took the attitude, “you first.” For two people with a high recognition need, it was the most volatile mix possible. Not surprisingly, neither went first and the snub was on.

By the time Abby passed a note to Cassie in study hall, Shaun and Eric were like totally not talking to each other. Then Shaun, he was, like, in Berea and, so, like, Eric he was there too but he acted like, you know, he didn’t know Shuan was there and he goes, he goes, like, “I’m not gonna say hi if he’s not gonna say hi” and so Shaun he just gets all like mad and stuff cause Eric didn’t stop by and so he leaves and Eric, he’s like, “hey, I’m the boss here, he should come and see me.” And then Eric he was gonna, like, you know, text Shaun and see if they could hang later but Shaun just got his new iPhone and changed his number and totally didn’t even give it to Eric, which was kind of mean. So now they’re both just totally off the reservation about this.

The chances of the Browns simply releasing Rogers are about 9.7 million to one. That’s the size impact releasing Rogers would have on the team’s salary cap. But just because they won’t release him doesn’t mean that this problem won’t linger below the surface and raise its ugly head from time to time. At some point, Mangini and Rogers will put their school girl theatrics aside and meet like adults. Predictably they’ll emerge from the meeting having “cleared the air.” Rogers will vow to give his all for the team and profess how much he likes playing in Cleveland. All will be well.

But there will come a point in the season where this wound will reopen. With Rogers, it’s a pattern. He likes to be coddled. He’ll mope and maybe dog it a bit just like he did in Detroit until he gets his way. Mangini will throw down his own gauntlet and the game will be on once again. Mangini is building a track record but Rogers already has one. They don’t call him Big Baby because he’s just a lovable overgrown kid.


Speaking of disgruntled, Kellen Winslow, Jr. is headed to Tampa Bay in return for some draft picks. According to reports, he garnered a second round pick this year and a fifth round pick next year. So much for anyone’s pipe dream that it involved a first round pick.

That Winslow was traded hardly qualifies as a shocker, though some are portraying it that way. Winslow wasn’t necessarily unhappy in Cleveland, though he was wildly unhappy with former general manager Phil Savage. What he was unhappy about was his contract status and employed the one agent more than any other, Drew Rosenhaus, likely to exploit that status.

Rosenhaus trolls for other agent’s clients by promising them the moon and the stars. There isn’t a contract that Rosenhaus ever felt shouldn’t be renegotiated. The minute a Rosenhaus client puts together a decent half of football, Rosenhaus is on the phone to the general manager asking for a renegotiation. Thus, the minute Winslow hired Rosenhaus before last season, you could have circled this day on the calendar.

Winslow is under contract until 2010. There was some concern that Rosenhaus might try to have Winslow hold out last season but that subsided. It didn’t, however, disappear. Had Winslow stayed, the chances of his holding out for a better deal were extremely high. Rosenhaus, too, has a track record as do his clients. If there’s a hold out, the odds are high it’s a Rosenhaus client.

But the Winslow contract situation has always been complicated. In the first place, Winslow caused his own problems by foolishly attempting to ride a stunt motorcycle as if that were his profession. He cost himself more than just a season. The injuries and the resulting staph infection still plague him. He’ll never be able to fulfill the promise of his talent as a result.

Although Savage could have rescinded Winslow’s contract because of the nature of the injuries, he chose instead to force upon him a very club-friendly renegotiation. In truth, Winslow had no choice but to accept that outcome. Not knowing whether he would ever really be able to play again, Winslow simply couldn’t risk being cut and taking an injury settlement. It would have been difficult to catch on with another team at anything approaching the same price.

Savage got his way but it caused some hard feelings with Winslow. From Winslow’s standpoint, it was pretty understandable. The Browns took advantage when the situation was in their favor. Why shouldn’t Winslow do likewise? Once Winslow returned from injuries and put together, for example, a Pro Bowl season in 2007, he felt that he had re-earned the salary he gave up. Savage didn’t see it that way and refused to renegotiate.

Eventually, the hard feelings the contract situation were causing blew up in the middle of last season when Savage oddly had Winslow suspended for a game for complaining about the number of staph infections Browns’ players have suffered. Savage had to rescind the suspension and was forced by owner Randy Lerner to apologize. Savage gave that his usual half-hearted best. Winslow, understandably, continued to stew even as he publicly said all the right things.

Winslow had a reputation for being a hot head coming out of the University of Miami, but in truth he was mostly a model citizen while in Cleveland despite possessing an ego that exceeded his accomplishments. He worked hard to rehabilitate. He was, as coaches like to say, a “warrior” on the field. He played hurt. Donte Stallworth he was not.

That Winslow was traded probably isn’t a case of his “wearing out his welcome” in Cleveland. He had no history with Mangini or general manager George Kokinis to suggest that. In fact, Savage’s departure probably was good news in Camp Winslow.

Instead, this is one trade you can probably take mostly at face value: an effort to trade an injury-plagued player for some lost draft choices. But before anyone gets all excited, keep it in perspective. If this trade has anything more than a minimal impact on the team’s success or lack thereof next season, that would be the shock in this whole matter.

With Winslow gone, the Browns basically have three tight ends still on the roster, Steve Heiden, Martin Tucker and Darnell Dinkins. Of the three, Heiden is clearly the most talented. While not nearly as athletic as Winslow or as fast, he is sure handed and is a better blocker than Winslow. Tucker is still mostly an unknown commodity. Savage was a big fan, Crennel and former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski were not. Dinkins is a role player, nothing more.

The guess is that the Mangini and Kokinis will add at least one more tight end, either through free agency or in the draft. Heiden, as serviceable as he’s been, has had his share of injuries as well. If Mangini ends up having the same view of Tucker as did Crennel, then look for the Browns to add two more tight ends. But in any case, given the other glaring holes in this team, filling these slots will fall well down on the priority list.


Given all the drama taking place in Berea this week, this week’s question to ponder: On which HBO series is Eric Mangini more likely to pop up on next, “Hard Knocks” or “In Treatment?”

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