Was Kellen Winslow a locker room cancer?

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: William Moore #25 of the Atlanta Falcons draws a flag as he makes helmet-to-helmet contact with Kellen Winslow #82 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during play at the Georgia Dome on January 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Since Kellen Winslow has been traded to the Seattle Seahawks, a lot of negative opinions concerning the veteran tight end have arisen, as well as a lot of speculation as to the real reasons for his release. He's been called a locker room cancer, compared to Jeremy Shockey by JoeBucsFan and Terrell Owens by fans, accused of being lazy and all sorts of unseemly things. JoeBucsFan directly compared the situation with Winslow now to the situation with Eli Manning and Jeremy Shockey in 2007, and played 'connect the dots' by involving new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan in the narrative. That's a lot of speculation and very little actual evidence. And, quite frankly, a lot of that just doesn't feel right.

Let's start with the basis of Kellen Winslow's poor reputation among Bucs fans: a little sideline spat late last season with Josh Freeman. After the umpteenth poor throw by the quarterback in a losing effort, the cameras showed the two players jawing at each other. Note: at each other. Is this really such a big deal? A tight end can't speak up when his quarterback is playing poorly? Is Josh Freeman so frail he can't handle a little talkback?

Other than that, there's not a lot of concrete evidence that Winslow was ever a poor teammate in Tampa. He never spoke out in the press, and was in fact very reclusive. He didn't create a sideshow. He didn't create any controversies. In fact, his coaches and teammates only ever spoke positively about him. He was, by all accounts, a very hard worker in practice and an outstanding competitor who cared about the game. Yes, he was limited in practice - because of a serious, structural knee injury that had to be managed. That wasn't Winslow being lazy, it was Winslow being injured.

So far, though, it appears that the main narrative is that Kellen Winslow was pushed out of town because he was a problem in the locker room - or at least for Josh Freeman. That's what most outlets are writing about, in any case. It's an interesting theory, and certainly not one I can dismiss, but it doesn't really appear to be based on, well, anything concrete. Vague feelings and impressions as well as a largely undeserved reputation are the basis of this narrative.

Ah, but he did miss OTAs, right? Well, Winslow missed all of three practices. He showed up for the earlier minicamp, but he missed these last few days. Is missing three practices for a tight end with a structural knee problem enough to push him out the door? I don't think so, and neither does Stephen Holder. Keep in mind that Winslow is hardly the only one to miss a few practices. He is, however, the first to be punished for it. Missing a practice is a shame, but it's not the end of the universe, and sometimes things just happen.

This is why I think Winslow was pushed out of town: he simply wasn't the player he used to be, and he wasn't worth the money they were about to pay him. It was obvious that Winslow wasn't good enough in 2011, as he struggled to gain separation against anyone. Opponents simply had a linebacker guard him in coverage, and that was good enough. His knee injury has sapped a lot of his speed and explosiveness. Getting rid of Winslow is, simply, getting rid of a player who isn't good enough anymore.

Is it possible that Greg Schiano wanted him gone because he didn't like his personality, or the way he meshed with the locker room, or even his practice habits? Yes, that's completely possible. But there's no real evidence for that, and this narrative is built in large part on speculation and unsubstantiated assumptions. And that's a shame, because a lot of fans are now assuming a lot of bad things about a player who still had three pretty good years in Tampa, and was a good team player throughout his tenure with the Bucs.

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