BEREA — Phil Savage’s voice got louder as it filled with emotion. It wasn’t yet 8 o’clock Thursday morning, but the general manager was fired up as he defended himself and the organization for suspending tight end Kellen Winslow.
“I capitalize that word, T-E-A-M. The Browns are bigger than one person,” Savage said on his weekly radio appearance on WTAM 1100-AM. “They’re bigger than (owner) Randy Lerner, they’re bigger than (coach) Romeo Crennel, they’re bigger than me, they’re bigger than any player on this team.
“We couldn’t, and won’t, allow one person to tear down this organization, so we had to do something.”
Winslow’s appeal of a one-game suspension without pay will be heard Tuesday, so he’s definitely out for the game Sunday against the Jaguars. Crennel said representatives from the league and the players association were scheduled to be in town Thursday to investigate and interview relevant parties.
Because the hearing won’t take place until after the game, money becomes the issue as Winslow is scheduled to be fined $235,294, 1/17th of his $4 million salary. Even if the suspension had been overturned before Sunday, the Browns could’ve chosen to make Winslow inactive.
Savage was the primary target of Winslow’s remarks as he criticized the team for covering up his staph infection and said he was made to feel like a “piece of meat.”
“After everything that all of us had been through since 2005, the comments really called into question the integrity of our medical staff and the organization as a whole,” Savage said. “To compromise that trust after the Browns had stood by Kellen through the motorcycle episode and knowing without question that we have done everything in our power to combat the staph infection problem, it just showed a lack of professional restraint.”
Savage grew more emotional as he talked. He defended his relationship with the players, gave details of his busy life as a general manager and rattled off more than 15 names of people in the organization as examples of the team’s commitment to winning.
“For us to be characterized in this way on a national stage is absolutely unacceptable, and that’s why we did what we did,” he said.
Winslow said it was the team’s decision to keep the details of his illness a secret. Savage said he was abiding by HIPAA laws protecting the rights of patients and that Winslow agreed with the decision. Savage also implied there was more to the illness than staph.
“Due to the nature of this particular situation, it seemed that the people involved wouldn’t want it out there,” Savage said. “It’s a non-football illness. It occurred during the bye week.”
Savage released a statement Tuesday announcing the suspension but has been unavailable to reporters. Crennel was left to answer dozens of questions on the subject but said he didn’t feel he was hung out to dry.
“In my job, I am before you more than he is before you,” Crennel said. “I deal with it and I can handle it. There’s no problem there.”
Crennel denied an NFL.com report that the Browns made Winslow available before the trade deadline Oct. 14. The report, citing multiple league sources, said the team didn’t receive a suitable offer.
“No, we didn’t try to trade him before the trading deadline,” Crennel said. “Now, there may have been some inquiries and that happens all the time with players. But we were not actively trying to trade him.”
Drew Rosenhaus, Winslow’s agent, told a Miami radio station he would be involved in the appeal, which is being handled by the players association.
“I believe suspending a player should be for conduct that is very detrimental, very serious, something where there’s been a pattern, where a player hasn’t followed notice and warning,” Rosenhaus said.
Winslow leads the Browns with 21 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown, and Savage said the Browns are open to welcoming him back.
“Absolutely, if he’s willing to do the things he said publicly he’s willing to do,” Savage said. “Kellen Winslow is a talented player that can help us win games.”
Receiver Braylon Edwards, like many of his teammates, doesn’t seem bothered by the claim of a recurrence of staph within the team. Following an interview Thursday, he borrowed a towel from Winslow’s vacant locker and draped it over his shoulders.
“Kellen’s our teammate. We can’t wait to have him back, but right now, we’ve got to go beat Jacksonville,” he said. “We didn’t have him against the Giants and yet we came out and made plays. You have to learn to play without people.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.