Passan: The Dream, Denied

Rich ponders the ill-fated career arc of LeCharles Bentley as a Cleveland Brown

It's a story that we may never know the full extent of. It's a mystery shrouded in nothing but good will and no apparent hurt feelings.

LeCharles Bentley is no longer something he zealously wanted to be while growing up in Cleveland – a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Just like that, he's gone.

Quite the contrary to when he signed that multi-million dollar contract in the early stages of 2006. Bentley was coming home. He spoke in terms that made every Browns fan proud to be a Browns fan.

Cleveland was where the two-time Pro Bowler wanted to be. And he made certain everyone knew that. This would be the culmination of a dream he had long clung to while starring in football at St. Ignatius High School and Ohio State University.

He couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he spoke to the assembled media at the news conference that introduced the return to his hometown. He was so happy. Back home with family, playing for the team of his childhood. Not many athletes experience that feeling.

Browns fans welcomed him home with open arms. Glad to have you back, said many ardent fans who applauded the Browns' effort to shore up the offensive line. Great to have you back where you belong. We look forward to a long and prosperous career.

Everyone was happy, giddy almost, that the Browns could pull off this kind of coup. Not one word of dissent.

In a moment of startling suddenness, the LeCharles Bentley story took one of the most puzzling and bewildering turns in Cleveland sports in a long time. One play into training camp in 2006, Bentley's world – and the patellar tendon in his left knee – collapsed.

Post-op complications along the road to recovery spun him into a life-and-death situation and out of Browns plans. And for the next two years, neither side appeared on the same page regarding his status. Until now.

When the Browns granted Bentley's request to be released Wednesday, it brought to an end one of the strangest and most bizarre chapters in Browns history.

No one figured it would end like this.

After nearly two years, trying to figure out why he hadn't played for the Browns has been perplexing. Neither side was forthcoming regarding his status. The fans didn't know what to think.

A nasty rumor has made the rounds lately that Bentley deceived the Browns by faking the injury. According to the rumor, he actually tore up the knee playing basketball shortly before the start of training camp two years ago and then pretended to blow out the knee on the first full-contact play of practice.

That would be hard to believe unless Bentley's pain threshold is so ridiculously high, he could have withstood pre-workout stretching and running in spite of the injury.

It's also possible – but not proven – the club found out that the rumor was true and decided to cover it up to save Bentley any embarrassment. There were some suspicions to why the Browns tore up the original contract and replaced it with a two-year deal.

For the better part of two years, Bentley rehabbed in an effort to fulfill his part of the contract. And for most of those two years, the Browns insisted he wasn't ready to play. Even though he had passed physicals elsewhere, he failed to pass the Browns' test.

Kind of makes one wonder.

Fans nevertheless continued to wish Bentley as speedy a recovery as possible. They understood the circumstances under which he labored and hoped for the best.

And when he finally did pass his physical recently, fans rejoiced. But not for long. The Browns would not guarantee him a starting spot on the offensive line. Nor should they have.

Phil Savage understandably couldn't wait for him to rehabilitate to the point where he would be a productive member of the team. The offensive line needed to be repaired quickly and Bentley was not a fit in that timetable.

So Savage did what any good general manager would do and was able to cobble together one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League by drafting smartly and signing key free agents.

Now the healthy Bentley would have to come in and prove himself all over again. Not good enough.

Maybe it was pride. Perhaps he was dissatisfied with the manner in which the club handled this whole mess that factored into the decision to ask for his release. Cleveland no longer fit into his short-term plans.

Give Bentley credit, however, for taking the high road. "I'm still a fan," he said as he departed. "I'm still a Cleveland guy and I'm glad to see the Browns do well. . . . I'm excited about that from a fan's perspective. I'm always going to be a Cleveland Browns die-hard fan no matter what."

Said Savage, "We wish him the best. . . . It just didn't work out." Empty words or words of relief that this little nightmare had closure?

Bentley didn't want to be a spare part and that's what he probably would have been with the Browns. Who could blame him? He believes he has recovered enough to become an asset to some team.

There's one team about two hours southeast of Cleveland down the turnpike that could use a good offensive lineman. And another team about five hours southwest of Cleveland down I-71 that could use a good offensive lineman. Both play in the AFC North.

How ironic it would be if the Browns see Bentley at least twice a year for the next five or six seasons.

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