Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr. said he would not object to his son, University of Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., beginning his NFL career with the Detroit Lions even though the team last year violated the interviewing rule for minority coaching candidates that the elder Winslow helped to get enacted.
"It's two totally different subjects," Winslow Sr. said by telephone this week. "It's apples and oranges. One is not related to the other."
The Lions have the sixth overall pick in the April 24 draft and are a top contender to select Winslow Jr., by far the highest-rated available player at his position. The Winslows had a high-profile disagreement when Winslow Jr. was making his college choice, as his father refused to sign a national letter of intent to the University of Washington, in part because Winslow Sr. reportedly had reservations about the racial makeup of the school's coaching staff and administration.
Winslow criticized the NFL for its minority hiring practices during his 1995 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech and now is the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group formed to promote minority hiring at all levels of the league. Lions President Matt Millen was fined $200,000 last year by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue for violating the league's rule, approved by acclamation of the sport's team owners under the threat of litigation, that requires each club with a head-coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. Millen said that several minority candidates declined to interview for the job because they were certain that the team would hire Steve Mariucci, which it did.
Winslow Jr. said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in late February that he would be happy to play for whichever team chooses him, including the Lions, and Winslow Sr. said this week he won't try to discourage Detroit from selecting his son. Otherwise, Winslow Sr. was reluctant to answer draft-related questions, suggesting he wants to give the spotlight to his son as Winslow Jr. prepares to launch an NFL career in which he will attempt to join his father among the best ever to play the position.
"I just want to be the complete player," the younger Winslow said at the combine. "I don't want to just be a receiving tight end. I want to be the complete tight end, and I want to be the best ever."
Many executives around the league expect Winslow to go to the Washington Redskins with the draft's fifth choice, the Lions with the sixth pick or the Cleveland Browns with the seventh selection. The Redskins and a few other teams appear wary, however, because Winslow has selected brothers Kevin and Carl Poston, agents with a reputation for conducting combative contract negotiations, to represent him.
There are few or no questions about Winslow's abilities, however. "He's the best tight end out there," Millen said at the combine. "He's a talented, talented kid. He blocks. He runs well. He gets up the field He can do everything you need your tight end to do."
Winslow was raised by his father, who played for the San Diego Chargers between 1979 and '87 and was an integral cog in the "Air Coryell" offense of former coach Don Coryell, after his parents split up when he was 3. Kellen Sr. urged his son to have varied interests. In sports, he pushed his son toward basketball and didn't even permit him to play football until high school.
But Winslow Jr. made his way to football at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, and his gifts quickly were apparent. He was heavily recruited and was set to announce his college choice of Washington on a live national cable television appearance before his father refused to sign the letter of intent, which requires a guardian's signature if the student-athlete is younger than 21. Winslow Sr. declined to discuss the matter this week, but he has said in the past he felt it was his duty as a parent to raise such issues with his son. He reportedly didn't like the manner in which his son was recruited by the staff of former coach Rick Neuheisel, a one-time replacement player for the Chargers during the NFL players' strike in 1987.
The Winslows settled on Miami a week later, and didn't regret the choice. Winslow was switched from wide receiver to tight end during his freshman season and backed up all-American Jeremy Shockey, now with the New York Giants, then had 57 catches as a sophomore and 60 receptions last season as a junior. Shockey became another mentor, and Winslow just kept getting better. He had 11 catches for 122 yards in the Hurricanes' January 2003 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State for the national title. The defeat ruined Winslow's goal of never losing while at Miami but his performance reminded some of his father's unforgettable game in a 41-38 overtime triumph over the Miami Dolphins in a January 1982 NFL playoff game, in which Winslow Sr. had to be helped off the field three times but had 13 catches for 166 yards and blocked a would-be winning field goal at the end of regulation.
Winslow inherited his father's competitive spirit, although he hasn't always channeled it properly. After a loss to Tennessee in November, Winslow unleashed a profanity-laced locker-room tirade in front of reporters in which he assailed the referees, called football "war" and said he was "a soldier." The television cameras were rolling, and the scene was replayed for days.
"You don't want a soft guy on the field," Winslow said at the combine. "I'm a real passionate guy. All I want to do is win . . . Off the field, you know, I learn from my mistakes. I just blew up. We lost two games in a row. I learned from that. I'm young. It was dumb . . . . It was tough, especially after the Tennessee thing . . . . I'm seeing my face all over the media. But I really just got a peace for myself and finished out those last six games strong."
His father did not try to dissuade him from bypassing his senior season at Miami to enter the draft, he said. "He said, 'If you're ready, leave,'" said Winslow Jr., who also drew criticism for nicknaming himself "The Chosen One" prior to last season. "And I'm ready . . . . I think the game started getting a little too easy. You could just tell during the game or practice. You can just tell you're ready."
He says he isn't out to revolutionize his position. That's already been done -- by his father. He just wants to pick up where Winslow the elder left off.
Asked where he ranks his father among the game's greatest tight ends, Winslow said: "Number one, to me . . . . I used to watch my dad play when I was little, and it's always something I wanted to do ever since I was about 4 or 5. As long as I can remember, I've been waiting for this day . . . . I just wanted to be the best. I used to want to be like Jerry Rice, like my dad. So that's where my passion comes from."
Tight Ends Roundup
Winslow will be taken early in the draft and likely will challenge Shockey and Tony Gonzalez in the coming years for the title of the game's best tight end. Some NFL talent evaluators regard him as the most gifted player in the draft.
Florida's Ben Troupe and Georgia's Ben Watson are vying to see who will be the second tight end drafted after Winslow, perhaps late in the first round. Troupe appears to have the edge, but some clubs have Watson second at the position on their draft boards. Pittsburgh's Kris Wilson made 42 straight starts to end his college career and is widely recognized as the fourth-best tight end in the draft, and many teams are disappointed in the quality of the players available at the position after that.
Teams with a possible first-round need at the position: Washington (5); Detroit (6); Cleveland (7); St. Louis (26).
Tight ends who could be taken in the first round: Winslow, Troupe, Watson.
Around the League
The Denver Broncos are stocking up at tight end, a possible indication that club officials believe that Shannon Sharpe will retire. The Broncos re-signed one free agent tight end, Patrick Hape, and added another, O.J. Santiago, on Thursday. Earlier in free agency, Denver signed tight end Jed Weaver. Sharpe has said he would let the Broncos know about his retirement decision prior to the draft . . . .
The Minnesota Vikings appear interested in linebackers Ian Gold and Warrick Holdman, perhaps the two best players still available on the unrestricted free agent market . . . . Teams continue to re-sign their restricted free agents in advance of today's close of the market. Indianapolis Colts guard Rick DeMulling signed his one-year, $1.368 million contract tender.