Derry: Time To Play Hardball

After decades of covering the Cleveland Browns, Frank Derry has moved on to become publisher of Indians Ink Magazine. Not only does he have a expect perspective on our football team, but in recent years, Frank has seen as many fastballs, curve balls, and knuckleballs as anyone. Now, though, he looks at the Kellen Winslow and Reuben Droughns situations and says it's the team to ignore the off-speed stuff and play pure 100% HARDBALL...

Call me old-fashioned; call me a sissy; call me the anti-dare devil. Call me anything you'd like,  but just don't call to tell me I've forfeited millions of dollars from a football contract that should have set me and the next five generations of my family up for life.

The reality of the matter is that if I ever signed a contract that clearly stated I would have to return a large portion ($5 million) of my signing bonus plus my option bonus ($4.4 million) if I was injured in a motorcycle accident, I wouldn't even walk into a motorcycle store, much less buy a machine capable of ruining my dreams within a matter of seconds.

And yet that is exactly what Kellen Winslow II did. He selfishly put his own desire to enjoy the thrill of riding a Crotch Rocket ahead of common sense. He showed, much like he did last summer by holding out, that there is an "I" in team when he's involved.

The sad part is that Winslow not only jeopardized his own career, but also put the hopes of his team and the entire city in peril.

Fortunately, we are told that the injuries Winslow sustained aren't life-threatening. He'll recover at some point, although the Browns are not speculating when that might be. For his sake, he'd better hope it's before the team takes the field for its first regular-season game this year.

Otherwise, he stands to lose more than the $9.4 million from his signing and option bonuses. The Browns also would have the option to terminate his contract.

Hopefully, it won't come to that. Hopefully, the swelling in his shoulder, the swelling in his knee and the internal injuries will all heal in time for him to become part of the potent one-two offensive threat anticipated since the team used its first-round draft choice to select highly-touted Braylon Edwards, the No. 1 rated wide receiver in this year's draft.

But even if that happens, there is no way I will ever look upon Winslow as anything more than a self-centered, egotistical, me-first-type person who epitomizes all that is wrong today's pro athletes. Winslow arrived in Cleveland with an attitude that made you immediately realize that he put himself ahead of his team.

Once he finally did sign, Winslow was babied by the Browns' media relations department. Winslow chose if and when he wanted to talk. More often than not he was silent.

Winslow was a college hot-shot who banked millions of dollars long before he ever did anything significant on the field as a pro. One problem with the NFL is that rookies pocket the big bucks while proven veterans are released on an annual basis just so ownership can avoid paying bonus money that amounts to $1 or $2 million, small potatoes compared to rookie bonus bucks.

The "new" Browns have made a habit of paying millions of dollars to draft picks who have been total busts on the field. Do the names Tim Couch, Gerard Warren and Courtney Brown ring a bell?  Now you can add Winslow to that list.

You can bet that in the not-too-distant future Winslow's agents, the hard-line Poston brothers, will show up in Berea stating why their client should not have to give back any money despite the contract.

They'll undoubtedly cite "good will" or words to that extent as reasons why the Brown should not abide by the words in Winslow's contract that state he will forfeit bonus money if "as a result of participation in hazardous activities which involve a significant risk of personal injury and are non-football in nature."

Those "activities" include but are not limited to "skydiving, hang gliding, mountain climbing, auto racing, motorcycling, scuba diving or skiing."

The Postons really don't have a leg to stand on if indeed Winslow's injuries turn out to be serious enough to keep him off the field in 2005. But as we all know, agents only insist upon sticking to contracts when they favor the player.

The Postons and Winslow are a lot alike. They care only about themselves. The Postons came off last summer as "bottom dollar" people, stating repeatedly that it was necessary to do so because "football is a business."

They said friendship will never come into play when it comes to negotiating a contract. They were going to get every cent possible, even when it meant harm for the team by the player not being on the field for the start of camp.

Memories of those comments should make it much easier for owner Randy Lerner to look them in the eye and say, "Take a hike."

Hopefully, he'll also use the same words when he confronts the agent for recently-acquired running back Reuben Droughns.

Droughns hired hardball agent Drew Rosenhous to try and break his current contract which calls for him to earn $950,000 in 2005 and slightly more than $1 million next year. Droughns, who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a member of the Denver Broncos last season, feels he is being underpaid and deserves a raise.

Rosenhous also represents Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, who likewise says he is being underpaid and wants a new contract. The Eagles have said publicly that they definitely will not tear up Owens' contract and that if he's not in camp, the team will move on without him.

Hopefully, Lerner, general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel will adopt a similar policy with the Browns.

It is time that players like Winslow and Droughns understand that no player, be it Jim Brown or Otto Graham, has ever been bigger than the team.

It's time they realize that a contract is a contract for both sides. It's funny how we never saw Couch or Warren or Brown lining up to give back any of their signing bonus money, even though none of them ever came close to earning it on the field.

Winslow didn't offer to give any money back last year when a broken leg cost him all but two games of the regular season. Of course, he was penalized by not reaching certain incentive-based clauses in his contract.

I guess the thing that surprised me most was that the Postons didn't demand he get paid his incentives even though he didn't play.

Now, they'll ask he gets paid even though his self-centered attitude will likely contribute to the Browns having yet another losing season.

       


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