The Cleveland Browns reached a contract agreement last night with tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. that will get the team's prized rookie to training camp. But the San Diego Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers were an entire country apart -- literally and figuratively -- in their contract negotiations.
Most NFL training camps have been going on for close to two weeks, and it is the time of the year when coaches and front-office executives get nervous about a player's rookie season being ruined if he still is absent. The Browns solved their problem when a deal was struck in a meeting last night in Cleveland between club president John Collins and Winslow's agent, Kevin Poston, and father, Kellen Winslow Sr.
The six-year deal is worth about $29 million, including a $16.5 million signing bonus. Escalators and incentives can push its value to about $40 million. One person familiar with the talks said that Winslow Jr. became eager to complete a deal after watching his former University of Miami teammate, safety Sean Taylor, have a two-interception performance for the Washington Redskins in Monday night's Hall of Fame game triumph over the Denver Broncos.
The Redskins decided against using the fifth choice in the draft in April on Winslow in part because of wariness about dealing with his tough-negotiating agents, Poston and his brother Carl, and selected Taylor. The Browns traded up a spot to get Winslow with the sixth overall pick, but the negotiations were tedious. The Browns at one point issued a statement that they had offered Winslow the same deal signed by Taylor -- worth $18 million over seven years, including $13 million in bonuses -- and he rejected it. Taylor's contract voids to six seasons and could be worth as much as $40 million with incentives.
The Postons reportedly were seeking a deal for Winslow that could have been worth more than $50 million over six years, including more than $14 million in bonuses. The Browns at one point called their proposal a last, best offer, but Collins backed off that in recent days and said it merely had been the last, best offer to get Winslow to camp on time. That might have provided the opening for a deal to be struck.
There has been no such breakthrough in the deliberations between the Chargers and agent Jimmy Sexton regarding Rivers, obtained by San Diego in a draft-day trade after he was selected fourth overall by the New York Giants. Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said Monday that "negotiations have broken down" after Sexton and Rivers rejected a contract proposal by the team that had a Sunday night expiration date. Smith said that future offers by the Chargers will decrease in value.
The Chargers have said they won't give Rivers a deal equal to the six-year, $45 million contract that quarterback Eli Manning -- the draft's top overall pick who went from San Diego to New York in the Rivers trade -- signed with the Giants. That deal included $20 million in bonus money and got Manning to Giants camp on time. It could be worth $54 million, including incentives. But Smith said the Chargers' offer would pay Rivers more than second overall pick Robert Gallery or third overall choice Larry Fitzgerald received.
"We believe it's a great offer," Smith said, reading a statement to reporters and indicating he would have no further comments until Rivers signs.
Rivers had been in San Diego until Monday, waiting to make the drive to the Chargers' training camp in Carson, Calif., if a deal was struck, but reportedly then departed for the East Coast.
Sexton said by telephone that the Chargers had offered Rivers less money than Gallery or Fitzgerald, and added: "It's unfortunate the Chargers took this position. When you issue ultimatums, you don't help the process. I've felt that Saturday and Sunday, we were making significant progress toward a deal, then they went public and pulled this stunt. It left us with no choice but to defend our position."
All of which means Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer might be left with little choice but to open the season starting the quarterback -- Drew Brees -- the team wanted to discard.