The deal's the thing for Collins
Friday, August 13, 2004
Tony Grossi

Early reviews on the Kellen Winslow Jr. contract do not favor the Browns' new management team.

Industry sources point to the fact that Winslow, a tight end, will receive approximately twice as much money over the life of the deal than last year's No. 6 pick, defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan of New Orleans.

Winslow's contract, essentially a maximum of $40 million over six years, includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money. That is comprised of signing bonuses paid in four installments and other roster and option bonuses.

Only No. 1 pick Eli Manning and No. 2 choice Robert Gallery in the 2004 draft received more guaranteed money.

"They got crushed," one NFL team executive said of the Browns.

"Was it a good contract for the Browns? No," said a prominent player agent not involved in the process.

John Collins, the new Browns' president who negotiated the deal, does not deny the numbers are mind-boggling for a player who has yet to catch a pass or score a touchdown.

In his first comments about the epochal negotiations, Collins on Thursday said unique circumstances contributed to the record deal. Winslow instantly became the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.

"I'm not happy about these numbers," Collins said. "But at the end of the day, we've got the player on the field."

The Browns were cast as huge underdogs in the negotiation process from the moment coach Butch Davis traded his second-round draft choice to Detroit to move up one notch and select Winslow.

They also were considered neophytes. Collins, formerly the league's top marketing executive, had never negotiated a player contract. Further, he was pitted against agent Kevin Poston, whose reputation for holding out players was well established.

Adding to the mix was Kellen Winslow Sr., a Hall of Fame tight end who was intent on looking out for his son.

Plus, the contracts of Manning, Gallery and No. 3 pick Larry Fitzgerald came in significantly higher than anyone anticipated.

"The other deals that got done [before Winslow's] have been described as monster contracts, so that doesn't make it easier," Collins said. "If I had been doing player contracts for five years or for 10 years, this one would still be unique.

"Yeah, I felt pressure, but I felt pressure for the organization. It was set up, as someone said, to be a volatile situation. It was a pretty emotionally charged negotiation. And as an organization, it was a good experience for us to go through. It was a little baptism by fire."

The Browns set their limit for maximum value at $40 million, the figure contained in the deal received by No. 5 pick Sean Taylor of Washington. It was rejected by Poston as a bad deal.

Collins disclosed the figures in a statement to the media and called it the team's "best offer." That was a rookie mistake, sources maintained.

"Maybe I shouldn't have said 'best offer,' but we still think that was a helluva offer," Collins said.

After ex-Browns Jim Brown and John Wooten communicated with Poston and Winslow behind the scenes, Collins improved the club's offer without raising the maximum value.

Ultimately, he raised the "skeleton" of the contract - the minimum Winslow could earn - plus the guaranteed money. And he made it easier for Winslow to reach the maximum of $40 million with individual and team incentives.

"I think the best thing that I took away was we both got what we wanted," Collins said. "We didn't get everything, they didn't get everything."

Poston's initial demand called for a maximum of about $54 million. After reaching agreement Tuesday night, he said the key was getting an incentive package that was "attainable" for Winslow. Winslow can begin cashing in on those incentives with 45 receptions his rookie year or 700 yards receiving.

"Our football guys expect [Winslow] to make the Pro Bowl," Collins said.

Collins said he did not receive pressure from Davis to get Winslow signed and in camp.

"But you feel that pressure because you want to protect your coach and you want to give him what he needs, and you know that he needs this kid," Collins said.

Ultimately, Winslow's negotiations might be compared to the talks held in 1996 between the Baltimore Ravens and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Established agents Marvin Demoff and Don Yee opposed young David Modell in that showdown. It was dubbed "David vs. Goliath," and Goliath surely won. Ogden, taken No. 4, signed the most lucrative contract in the entire draft.

After seven consecutive selections to the Pro Bowl by Ogden and one Super Bowl championship by Baltimore, the Ravens long ago stopped defending that first negotiation process.

"If you think he's a Hall of Fame player, then he's worth the money," said an agent. "It's all contingent on how he performs."

In other words, the contract won't matter if Davis is right about Winslow. Only if he is wrong.