October 2, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
54°F

Winslow traded to Tampa Bay

BEREA — These are no longer Phil Savage’s Cleveland Browns.

 

On the first day of his first free agency as Cleveland’s coach, Eric Mangini failed to sign an expensive player who would impact the team and excite the fan base.

 

Instead, Mangini traded away one of the Browns’ most talented — and often difficult — players in a move that polarized fans.

 

The Browns dealt tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday in exchange for a second-round pick in April (No. 50 overall) and a fifth-round pick in 2010. While much of the league was busy spending millions to acquire Pro Bowlers, Mangini was practicing his version of addition by subtraction.

 

The Browns began the day with just four selections in the draft April 25-26, so the deal gives them the fifth, 36th and 50th picks on the first day. They are without picks in the third, fifth and seventh rounds.

 

“The draft picks we have obtained through this deal will give us greater flexibility as we look to infuse more talent and create competition and depth on this football team,” general manager George Kokinis said in a statement.

 

But the move was mostly about Winslow.

 

He battled injuries throughout his five seasons in Cleveland, made himself a distraction with actions and comments off the field and was looking for a restructured contract despite having two years and $9.25 million left on his. Agent Drew Rosenhaus is reportedly already in negotiations with the Buccaneers about a new deal.

 

Mangini’s willingness, perhaps eagerness, to trade away one of the most recognizable names on the Browns further shows a shift in the franchise’s philosophy. He wants to build a team of unselfish players who are committed to winning, and isn’t afraid to sacrifice a superstar.

 

The Browns spent the rest of Friday working the phones, but didn’t make another move. Agents for Giants running back Derrick Ward and Ravens offensive lineman Jason Brown, a couple of expected targets in free agency, said the Browns hadn’t expressed interest in their clients.

 

Winslow’s final distraction as a Brown involved a feud with Savage, the former general manager who annually spent millions at the start of free agency.

 

Winslow was hospitalized in October, missed a game with a staph infection, complained that Savage didn’t call him during the stay and said the team was more concerned about its image than the players’ health. Savage suspended him for a game, but was forced to rescind it.

 

Winslow also asked to be traded at the time, but said Friday he hadn’t made that request recently. Does he consider himself a troublemaker?

 

“Misunderstood would be a better word to use,” he said during an introductory news conference in Tampa Bay. “People don’t really know me yet.”

 

Winslow’s career in Cleveland will be best remembered for the playing time he missed. After being the No. 6 pick of the 2004 draft by Butch Davis, Winslow broke his leg trying to recover an onside kick in his second game and missed the rest of the season.

 

Then things got bizarre.

 

The next spring, Winslow wrecked his knee and almost died practicing motorcycle stunts in a parking lot. He developed a staph infection in his knee, lost a lot of weight and missed the 2005 season.

 

He was finally back on the field in 2006 and played 36 straight games before suffering the staph infection last season. He played hard and with passion, but needed knee surgery every offseason, battled a sore shoulder the last two years and missed the final four games of 2008 with a sprained ankle.

 

He will turn 26 in July, but his body is much older. Another reason the Browns were reluctant to add years, and millions, to his contract.

 

In 44 games — fewer than nine a season — he caught 219 passes for 2,459 yards and 11 touchdowns.

 

“Cleveland was great to me,” Winslow said. “I had a great time playing with Braylon Edwards and Brady Quinn. I’m going to miss those guys.”

 

Winslow, who rejoins former Browns tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts with the Bucs, never fulfilled the immense potential he brought from the University of Miami. The son of a Hall of Fame tight end, Winslow was expected to bring a new athleticism to the position and eventually join his dad in Canton.

 

He was faster than linebackers and bigger than safeties, but only really exploited the advantages during his Pro Bowl season of 2007. He caught 82 passes for 1,106 yards and five touchdowns and immediately started asking for a new contract.

 

In 10 games last year, he had 43 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns.

 

“Cleveland treated me right,” he said. “Everything didn’t go as planned there, but I had a good time playing.”

 

Respected veteran Steve Heiden would seem the favorite to take Winslow’s starting spot, but he’s rehabbing from a torn ACL and might not be ready at the start of the season. Martin Rucker, a fourth-round draft pick last year, is another possibility.

 

He’s 6-foot-4, 260 pounds and athletic, but was slow to adjust to the pro game and never earned the favor of the former coaching staff. He caught just two passes for 17 yards.

 

Petrak may be reached at spetrak@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7136.