Savage suspends Winslow

Published 1:08 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Cleveland Browns unveiled their own defensive scheme to shut down Kellen Winslow.

The team suspended their talented, emotional tight end for one game without pay for critical comments Winslow made following Sunday’s loss at Washington.

Winslow, who spent three days at the Cleveland Clinic earlier this month with an undisclosed illness, revealed he had a staph infection — for the second time — before lashing out at Browns general manager Phil Savage as the Pro Bowler’s teammates dressed after their 14-11 loss to the Redskins.

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Winslow complained that the team, which has had at least six cases of staph in the past three years, asked him to conceal his illness. He also vented at Savage for not checking on him while he was in the hospital, said he felt the Browns were treating him like a ‘‘piece of meat,’’ and said he considered requesting a trade.

Savage shot back with a 352-word statement on Tuesday, suspending Winslow and calling his comments and behavior ‘‘unwarranted, inappropriate, and unnecessarily disparaging to our organization.

‘‘His statements brought unjustified negative attention to our organization, and violated the team-first concept of our football squad,’’ said Savage, who had not suspended a player since taking over the Browns in 2005.

Winslow will miss Sunday’s game at Jacksonville and it will cost him $235,294 — his one-game paycheck. He will not be allowed to practice or attend meetings at the team’s facility this week and cannot return until Monday.

Winslow can appeal his suspension through the NFL Players’ Association. His agent Drew Rosenhaus did not immediately return phone messages or an e-mail seeking comment.

In a statement released through his publicist, Winslow said he tried to reveal his condition but was discouraged by the team.

‘‘Regardless of how this was released the information would still remain the same,’’ he said. ‘‘I contracted staph, again. I spoke out on this because I felt it was the right thing to do and that is why I was so passionate about it. This has nothing to do with football and this has nothing to with my current contract situation. This is a health concern.

‘‘I care deeply for my organization, my teammates, and the Browns fans. At no time was I ever trying to cause distress for the team or be a distraction but the fact remains there is a health issue that needs to be addressed further.’’

Winslow’s suspension culminates a two-week mystery that began with him being admitted to the hospital on Oct. 9 with an undisclosed illness.

The Browns, citing privacy laws and Winslow’s wishes, declined to identify his medical condition. Winslow returned to practice last week and on Friday he said he agreed with the team’s decision and argued that ‘‘just because I catch a football doesn’t mean I should tell what’s wrong with me or what happened.’’

However, after catching just two passes for 19 yards in Sunday’s game, Winslow went public with his illness.

On Monday, coach Romeo Crennel said he was disappointed by Winslow’s decision to take his problems to the media and said he would consult with Savage before levying any punishment.

Savage maintains the decision to keep the illness a secret was made with the player’s blessing and he defended the Browns’ handling of Winslow’s hospital stay.

‘‘The Cleveland Browns are committed to winning and taking care of our players,’’ he said. ‘‘We are also committed to protecting the privacy of our players, particularly with regard to medical issues. To that end, following discussions with Kellen Winslow and his representation, the Browns agreed to make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of his recent medical condition.’’

The Browns have had an alarming number of staph cases, and Savage said the team is doing all it can to protect the health of its players and personnel at the club’s training facility in Berea and downtown stadium.

Savage said the players have been educated on the risks of staph, and that during training camp the entire team took part in an extensive presentation by infectious disease experts.

Winslow’s suspension could further damage his already shaky relationship with Savage and the Browns, who moved up in the 2004 draft to select him No. 6 overall.

He has been upset with the team for not giving him a contract extension. After catching 82 passes for 1,106 yards and five touchdowns last season and making his first Pro Bowl team, Winslow hired Rosenhaus, who used the week in Hawaii to make it known that he intended to get his client a new deal.

Winslow has three years remaining on his deal, which was reworked in 2006. He’s making $4 million this season and has base salaries of $4.5 million in 2009 and $4.75 million in 2010.

Winslow broke his right leg during his second game as a rookie and missed the remainder of the season. While he was recovering, he sustained life-threatening injuries when he crashed his motorcycle doing stunts in a parking lot. The Browns paid him more than $11 million for his first two seasons.

Winslow got a staph infection following surgery on his right knee, but before missing the Browns’ Oct. 13 game against the New York Giants, he had made 36 straight starts and developed into one of the NFL’s premier tight ends.

Despite being double-teamed at times, he has a team-high 21 receptions for 187 yards this season.

The 25-year-old Winslow, who has had to endure grueling rehab sessions and constant pain just to play the past three seasons, had seemingly matured before Sunday’s unexpected outburst.

‘‘He has made progress from the time that I have been here,’’ Crennel said. ‘‘The thing that we sometimes don’t understand is the pressure that a young man like that has on him when he gets injured or is not able to play or what he thinks about his future and there are a lot of things going through his mind.’’