Kellen Winslow caught 82 passes for 1,106 yards last season as the Browns went 10-6. He expects to be better this season.
BEREA, Ohio - Kellen Winslow could be home resting or relaxing on a beach in California with a cold drink as his teammates sweat through grueling two-a-day practices.
If he desired, the Pro Bowl tight end, who wants the Cleveland Browns to tear up his contract which still has three years left, could be just about anywhere but training camp.
Instead, Winslow is where he's happiest - on the field.
"My job," Winslow said yesterday following the team's first workout in full pads, "is to just be out here and play football. I don't want to be a distraction."
For a while, that's all he was.
Winslow, who came to the NFL with a fiery reputation, missed 14 games as a rookie in 2004 after breaking his leg. He was then sidelined for all the next season following a near-fatal motorcycle accident. But in the past two years, the 25-year-old has become one of the game's top tight ends, fulfilling the promise that the Hall of Famer's son always had.
However, until he arrived at camp this week, there was concern that Winslow would have a negative impact on the Browns even before their 2008 season kicked off.
Not long after making the Pro Bowl, Winslow hired agent Drew Rosenhaus and made it known he wanted to be the league's highest paid tight end. Then, Winslow had surgery - at least his fourth procedure - on his right knee, which he wrecked in the crash and later became infected.
In April, the Browns traded a draft pick to select a tight end as a possible successor for Winslow, who then missed the Browns' voluntary practices in May and June. A contract holdout seemed imminent. Trouble, it seemed, was brewing.
This time, Winslow stiff-armed it. He's a happy camper.
"I'm sure [the media] thought I wasn't coming, but I'm not that type of guy," Winslow said. "I don't want to be a distraction. My job is to just help this team win and come out here and play to the best of my ability."
Rosenhaus has engaged in negotiations with the Browns. He characterized the talks as a "dialogue with the team. Nothing is imminent, and we're at a very preliminary point." He has spoken with general manager Phil Savage and plans to visit Cleveland soon.
In the past, Rosenhaus has kept clients out of camp until they got paid. But he and Winslow decided not to use a contract holdout as leverage with the Browns.
"There is a sense of urgency on our end," Rosenhaus said. "Kellen and I have discussed it, and we decided to take the high road and handle it professionally. There will be no holding out, and there will be nothing that will keep Kellen off the field."
While not providing specifics on what he's seeking from the team, Rosenhaus did describe Winslow's rookie contract as "outdated."
The Browns, who initially withheld some bonuses from Winslow following his accident, have already reworked his contract once. Before his third season, they changed some of his performance clauses, allowing him to recoup some of the financial hit he took by missing most of his first two seasons.
Winslow said it's easy for him to separate off-the-field business from what he has to do between the hash marks.
"You can't focus on the contract. I am under contract. I just want to be a Cleveland Brown for a long time, so my agent and the organization are in talks," he said.
Winslow said he wouldn't be upset if the sides didn't agree to a new deal this year.
"It is up to them. If they don't do it, they don't do it. If they do it, they do it. My job is to just get out here and play," he said.
Getting ready to play each Sunday has been a challenge for Winslow. Last season, he often lugged around some type of medical apparatus to help his body recover from the pounding he'd take in games. If his shoulder wasn't aching, it was his knee.
But despite the bumps and bruises, Winslow caught 82 passes for 1,106 yards and five touchdowns to earn his first trip to Honolulu. He intends to go back.
"I left a lot on the field last year," he said. "I watched the film from last year and saw things that I can do better. I probably could have caught 100 balls. Touchdowns, I only had five, so I can get a lot better in each category."
While his game has matured, Winslow has grown as a person. At the University of Miami, his infamous "I'm a soldier" rant during a postgame locker room tirade painted him as a hothead. And although he can still get edgy, Winslow has calmed down considerably.
"We all go through that maturation process, and he's in the middle of it," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "We've seen him settle down from the first year I was here, and he can manage himself better than he used to."
Winslow concedes he has changed - for the better.
"Coming out of college, I was probably viewed in a different light," he said. "I'm growing up. I'm 25 now. That stuff was a long time ago, and just like everyone else, you have to grow up. I'm older now, married, and just grown up."