Cleveland traded the talented and troublesome former Pro Bowl tight end to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday for undisclosed draft picks new coach Eric Mangini can use to begin rebuilding the disappointing Browns following a calamitous 2008 season.
|'Cleveland was great to me,' Kellen Winslow says. (US Presswire)|
An All-American at Miami, where his infamous postgame "I'm a soldier" rant shaped outside opinion of him, Winslow missed most of his first two NFL seasons with injuries. He was badly injured in a motorcycle accident, but came back and showed flashes of fulfilling his Hall of Fame pedigree.
Winslow, 25, squabbled with Cleveland's front office this past season. He was almost always hurt, but he almost always played.
Back in Florida, he's ready for a new beginning.
"Cleveland was great to me," he said in Tampa. "I had a great time playing with Braylon Edwards, Brady Quinn. I'm going to miss those guys. But it's also a new opportunity. I've played with some of the guys on this team -- Jeff Faine, Antonio Bryant, Luke McCown. I'm as happy as can be. I'm healthy."
Winslow will be reunited in Tampa with Alfredo Roberts, his tights ends coach in Cleveland the past two seasons.
With the Browns, Winslow had 219 catches for 2,459 yards and 11 touchdowns. He matched Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome's club record with 89 receptions in 2006 and made 82 in 2007, earning him a Pro Bowl spot. He played in 44 games, but he missed 36 because of injuries.
There had been speculation that Cleveland's new management team of Mangini and general manager George Kokinis would deal Winslow for draft picks -- the Browns only had four in the '09 draft before the deal -- so it was not completely surprising they cut ties with him in a blockbuster move on the first day of free agency.
"The Cleveland Browns thank Kellen for his contributions to this organization over the past five years," Kokinis said in a statement. "We appreciate his passion for the game and wish him success in Tampa Bay. 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."
Winslow's acquisition continues a busy week for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay cut linebacker Derrick Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowler and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year; wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard; running back Warrick Dunn; and linebacker Cato June in moves to save more than $10 million in salary cap space.
Winslow gives Tampa Bay a versatile offensive weapon. His size and speed make him difficult to defend, but it's unclear who will throw him the ball. Jeff Garcia is not expected to be re-signed, which currently leaves only Brian Griese and McCown -- drafted by the Browns the same year as Winslow -- to battle it out for the starting job.
Winslow said he hasn't had a chance to speak with Tampa Bay's coaching staff about his role in the offense.
"We haven't gotten that far yet," he said. "I'm sure they'll find a way, though."
Winslow has never lacked confidence. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder, who before his injuries and multiple knee operations could outrun most defensive backs, was arguably the most talented player on Cleveland's roster. But while he showed uncanny toughness and played through pain, Winslow was often a distraction.
The Browns traded their first-round pick in 2004 and a second rounder to Detroit to move up and select Winslow sixth overall. He broke his leg in just his second game while recovering an onsides kick and missed the remainder of his rookie season. He was rehabbing from the injury when he crashed his high-powered motorcycle while doing stunts in a parking lot.
Winslow was lucky to survive the wreck, suffering serious internal injuries and tearing a ligament in his right knee. He contracted a staph infection in the knee and had to undergo several clean-out procedures. Once healthy he produced, but following the '07 season, he hired agent Drew Rosenhaus and asked for a new contract.
The Browns appeared to be making plans for a future without Winslow when they drafted Martin Rucker in the fourth round last season.
Winslow's relationship with the team hit a low when he feuded publicly with former Cleveland GM Phil Savage in October.
Winslow was hospitalized for two days with an "undisclosed illness." After being released from the hospital he accused the club, which has had several players contract staph in recent years, of trying to hide his illness. Savage suspended him one game for making disparaging remarks about the team, but the penalty was later rescinded when it was learned that a team employee had sent Winslow e-mails urging him not to reveal the infection.
Winslow told Tampa reporters he is misunderstood.
"People don't really know me yet," he said. "Everybody makes mistakes, and the mistake I made was when I was 19 years old -- I'm 25 now -- was on national television. Everybody got to see it. I stand here before you now, I think I'm a changed man."