LeCharles Bentley Mulling More Knee Surgery; Career on Line

Courtesy: Cleveland Browns Website
Courtesy: Cleveland Browns Website

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Browns center LeCharles Bentley will likely undergo more surgery on a serious knee injury that cost him last season, is jeopardizing another and could end his NFL career.

Cleveland general manager Phil Savage said Tuesday that Bentley is considering a third operation to repair the left patellar tendon he tore on the first full-contact play of training camp last summer.

"If he does elect to have the surgery, then obviously he won't be here for 2007 as an active player," said Savage, adding "it's more likely he will have surgery."

A two-time Pro Bowl selection in New Orleans, Bentley signed a six-year, $36 million free agent contract in March to play for the Browns, his hometown team. But he his first season in Cleveland end freakishly.

While blocking on a running play on July 27, Bentley tore his tendon planting his foot and before any contact. Following surgery, he got a staph infection, which caused further damage to his tendon.

Bentley needed a second operation just one month after the first to clean out the infection and fix the damage it caused to his tendon. He was hospitalized for more than one month at the Cleveland Clinic.

Savage said even if Bentley has an upcoming surgery and can't play in '07, the team will carry him on its roster and reassess his condition next year.

Savage also said Bentley might not play again.

"We certainly owe LeCharles an opportunity to see where he's going to be," he said. "This time next year I think we'll have a much clearer picture in terms if he is really a legitimate piece of the puzzle here or has the injury been so devastating that he may never play again.

"That's something we'll know clearly this time a year from now."

Savage said the club is preparing for free agency and the college draft with the idea Bentley will not be back.

"If we get LeCharles back this year, we would consider that a bonus," he said. "Right now our plans would have to be that he's probably not going to be here in '07."

One of Bentley's agents, Jonathan Feinsod, is certain his client will return as good as ever.

"I guarantee that LeCharles Bentley will be back playing again at a Pro Bowl level," he said.

Savage acknowledged the staph infection was a setback to Bentley's recovery, but the severe nature of his initial injury made it possible that the 27-year-old would need multiple surgeries before playing again.

Bentley is in Arizona recovering and rehabbing his knee. In December, he was asked if he would play again.

"Why wouldn't I?" he said.

Bentley's loss was devastating to the Browns, who went 4-12 last season. Without him, their offensive line not only lost its best player, but Cleveland was dealt another blow when his backup, Bob Hallen, retired unexpectedly.

The club went through five centers in camp before acquiring Hank Fraley in a trade with Philadelphia. Fraley, who started 16 games, is an unrestricted free agent and Savage said the club has had talks with him about re-signing.

"We've had some discussions with him and we'll see," Savage said. "I think Hank wanted to come back and we're going to do our best to bring him back."

Bentley is one of several Browns players to suffer post-surgery infections during the past two years. The rash of staph cases has prompted the club to thoroughly examine its medical practices.

Later this week, the team's headquarters will be vacated so a special antiseptic spray can be applied to help combat staph, a highly contagious virus.

In addition to Bentley's status, Savage, beginning his third season as Cleveland's GM, touched on several other offseason issues:

- The Browns will have approximately $30 million to spend on free agents when the signing period opens on March 2. And without naming any possible players he'll target, Savage said the club will be aggressive.

- Quarterback Charlie Frye would be the starter if the season opened soon, but things could change depending on what the teams does in free agency and the draft.

"The quarterback position is key, no question about that," Savage said. "But at the same time I don't think you can fix everything all at one time. ... In certain spots on our team, we're going to have to live with what we have and make it work."

- Backup running back Jason Wright was signed to a one-year contract extension through 2008. Wright rushed for 189 yards on 62 carries last season. "He's a terrific representative of the Browns," Savage said.

- The club has exchanged contract proposals with safety Brian Russell, another unrestricted free agent. However, Savage said the club would only re-signed him if "the numbers worked for us."

- Cornerback Gary Baxter, who tore both patellar tendons on one play last season, has made progress in his comeback, which so far has exceeded doctor's expectations.

- Right offensive tackle Ryan Tucker has met with some of Cleveland's new offensive coaches and hopes to play this season after leaving the team last season because of an undisclosed mental disorder.

- The Browns will flip a coin later this week with Tampa Bay at the combine in Indianapolis to determine if they'll pick third or fourth.

- The club currently has 166 players it would consider drafting, but that list will be down to 120 by the first day of the draft.