Despite the May 1 motorcycle accident that will sideline tight end Kellen Winslow for the 2005 season, and which adds uncertainty to his football future, the Cleveland Browns have no intention of releasing their 2004 first-round draft pick.
The team has decided, however, to seek financial adjustments to Winslow's contract, and that move could come within the next few weeks. Once Winslow misses a mandatory team function, essentially depriving the Browns of his football services, the franchise will be able to enforce the so-called "dangerous activities" stipulations of his contract. Those are clauses that, in very clear language, preclude Winslow from putting his career, and Cleveland's investment in him, in jeopardy.
Cleveland has a mandatory, three-day mini-camp scheduled for June 13-15. After he misses that mini-camp -- and only a miraculous recovery could get Winslow on the field for those sessions -- the Browns will seek to recover a portion of the $5.05 million in bonuses that the tight end has received to this point.
The Browns are expected to seek repayment of between $2 million and $3 million. The team will also withhold a $2 million payment due Winslow on July 15, money that is part of his $6 million signing bonus.
Franchise officials have declined to address the financial ramifications of the motorcycle accident, an incident in which the tight end reportedly sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, along with other internal injuries. Because the injuries did not occur in a football situation, the Browns are not compelled to report them, and Winslow and his family have requested that the team not divulge any medical information.
A team source strongly suggested this week that the Browns intend to exercise the injury protections they negotiated into the contract. A source also noted that, while Winslow had been "working really hard" in the offseason, he still was not fully recovered from the broken right ankle suffered in the second game of the 2004 season and showed a lack of judgment in taking up motorcycling as a hobby.
At least twice in Winslow's contract -- in the "optional extension agreement" and in the "signing, reporting and playing bonus addendum" -- there is specific language regarding the off-field activities in which the player is precluded from participating. The sections of both addendums are similar and refer to "hazardous activities" that "involve a significant risk of personal injury ... including, but not limited to skydiving, hang gliding, mountain climbing, auto racing, motorcycling, scuba diving and skiing."
The contract, executed on Aug. 11, 2004, also reads: "It is further understood and agreed that player's waiver of rights to certain unpaid amounts, and player's obligation to re-pay certain amounts of [these bonuses] are express provisions of this contract and, but for the provisions herein contained, club would not have executed this contract."
In terms of his $6 million signing bonus, Winslow received $2 million within 10 days of the execution of the contract and $1.05 million on Dec. 15, 2004. He is due $2 million on July 15 and the final $950,000 by Dec. 15. He also received, earlier this offseason, $2 million of a $4.4 million option bonus that allowed the Browns to extend his contract by one year through the 2010 season. The $2.4 million balance of the option bonus is not due until July 15, 2006.
While the Browns intend to enforce their financial options, doing so could be a tricky maneuver, in terms of attempting to not alienate a player they still feel is a significant part of their program. The team will seek to avoid acrimony, but that might not be easy, even given the specific language built into the contract.
There is a possibility that the Browns would rework Winslow's contract to afford him the opportunity to earn back some of the forfeited money in so-called "back end" incentives, that would be tied to playing time or performance levels.
First-year coach Romeo Crennel said Wednesday that the Browns are still waiting on Winslow to have a second opinion on his right knee, but stressed that the prized tight end is rehabilitating at the team facility and attending the voluntary offseason sessions.
"He comes out on the field and has been learning the system just like everyone else has," Crennel said. "I told him I expected him to do that."
Winslow was charged last week with disregarding safety, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $150, by Westlake, Ohio, law enforcement authorities. The charges came after police there reviewed a videotape that showed Winslow, said to be a novice rider, performing wheelies in a parking lot. Browns officials have also seen the tape.
Asked on Wednesday how he felt Winslow might react if the Browns attempted to recover part of his bonus money, Crennel said: "I'm not sure. That's something he and his agents are going to have to discuss and talk about, and then they're going to have to make their determination whenever that occurs, or if that occurs."
The sixth player chosen overall in the '04 draft, Winslow appeared in just two games as a rookie. He had five receptions for 50 yards before breaking his right leg while attempting to recover an onside kick late in a Sept. 19 game at Dallas.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.