GM Savage defends decision to suspend TE Winslow for comments

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage emotionally defended his decision to suspend tight end Kellen Winslow, who claims the club tried to cover up his staph infection and has appealed his one-game ban without pay.

Savage suspended Winslow for his disparaging comments and behavior following Sunday's loss in Washington. Winslow, who agreed to keep his medical condition private, revealed he had staph and said the Browns, who have had a high number of staph cases in recent years, still have a problem with infections.

The NFL Players' Association has been looking into the staph infection issues in Cleveland, ESPN.com Senior NFL Analyst Chris Mortensen has learned.

"Our medical advisor, Tom Mayer is in contact with league medical people about this issue in Cleveland and we are certainly looking into it," NFLPA executive director Richard Berthelsen told Mortensen.

Insisting "this is not K2 vs. Phil Savage," the GM depicted Winslow as selfish and outlined the team's reasons for suspending one of its stars.

"The Browns are bigger than one person, bigger than [owner] Randy Lerner, bigger than [coach] Romeo Crennel, bigger than me and bigger than any player on this team," Savage said during his weekly appearance on WTAM radio. "We couldn't and won't allow one person to tear down the organization, so we had to do something."

Winslow appealed his suspension on Wednesday. His case will be heard by an arbitrator on Tuesday in Cleveland.

If he wins his appeal, Winslow, who will serve his suspension Sunday when the Browns play at Jacksonville, could recoup the $235,294 -- his one-game paycheck -- he was docked with the suspension.

In his first public comments since imposing Winslow's suspension, an animated Savage expressed his disappointment at the Pro Bowler's assertion the team hid his illness. He was also offended by Winslow's charge that Savage didn't check on him while he spent three days at the Cleveland Clinic.

Savage countered Winslow's claims by recounting the team's support after the player was seriously injured in a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 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 showed a lack of professional restraint."

Moments before Winslow criticized the Browns, he and Savage spoke in a hallway outside Cleveland's locker room at FedEx Field. Savage said the meeting was not heated as had been reported, and that he and Winslow shook hands before parting ways.

When Winslow revealed he had staph, breaking an agreement with the Browns not to disclose his illness, Winslow said he was speaking out to protect his teammates' health.

At least six Browns have contracted staph since 2005. The club maintains it has been proactive in keeping the training facility clean, and on Wednesday, several Browns, including three captains, said the team has educated them on the risks of staph and preventive measures to avoid being infected.

Savage suggested Winslow's condition was not isolated to staph. Winslow was hospitalized on Oct. 9 and released three days later. He missed the Browns' upset of the New York Giants on Oct. 13 before returning for last week's game against the Redskins despite practicing once.

Medical privacy laws preclude teams from disclosing a player's illness without permission, and while Winslow was sidelined, the Browns said they were abiding by his wishes to conceal his condition.

"From a legal standpoint, HIPAA laws and such, we can't even reveal the nature of someone's illness without their approval of it, and due to the nature of this particular situation, it seemed that the people involved wouldn't want it out there," Savage said. "Our hands are tied in certain situations on these medical things, and it was all agreed upon that we will keep this under wraps; it's a non-football illness, it occurred during the bye week and we've got a game to play."

Winslow's high-profile agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has been shockingly quiet during the ordeal. Rosenhaus has not returned a phone call or email seeking comment on his client's situation.

Crennel denied an NFL Network report that Savage tried to trade Winslow last week before the deadline.

"There have been some inquiries and that happens all the time with players," Crennel said. "A team might call and say, 'Hey, what about so and so? Are you guys interested in doing anything?' That might have happened, I'm not going to say that it did or didn't, but we were not actively trying to trade him."

Earlier this week, Winslow expressed in a statement his desire to stay with the Browns "for a very long time" and was confident he and the team can move forward together.

Savage hopes Winslow keeps his word.

"If he is willing to do the things that he said publicly that he is willing to do, we'll gladly accept him back," Savage said. "Kellen Winslow is a talented player that can help us win. I feel like once this passes, it's over with and we're going to move on. We've got to do what's best for the team, and the people on the team have to do what's best for the team and not necessarily what's best for themselves."

ESPN.com's Senior NFL Analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.