Beware the fist in the velvet glove.
Channeling Hyman Roth, Browns general manager Phil Savage essentially positioned Wednesday’s release of center LeCharles Bentley as purely business, nothing personal. Bentley said pretty much the same thing. But just as Michael Corleone’s business move of snuffing out Moe Greene had its repercussions, don’t be surprised if there isn’t some attendant fallout from the Bentley situation.
To many fans, the news that Bentley supposedly asked for and received his release probably came as a surprise. Bentley had just passed his team physical and looked poised to finally pay some sort of dividend on the Browns’ heavy investment in him two years ago. On the surface, Bentley’s request looks to be motivated by the numbers, as in there are too many incumbents that currently block his desire to resume his career as a starting center. Just below the surface and promising to rise soon enough are Bentley’s lingering feelings that Savage hasn’t quite treated him fairly. It’s a complicated set of emotions with no right answer.
Bentley, of course, was Savage’s first legitimate big name free agent signee. Bentley was the marquee free agent of the 2006 class and his six year $36 million contract, with $12 million guaranteed, cemented that status. In Bentley as well as Kevin Schaffer (who was signed at the same time), Savage saw an opportunity to finally improve the offensive line. Bentley was a perfect signing, really, because it involved a highly skilled lineman with a desire to return triumphantly to his home town.
It didn’t work out that way because Bentley got hurt during his very first drill in his first Brown’s training camp. Amazingly, he suffered a torn patella in a non-contact drill that morphed into a staph infection that morphed into even more surgery. Bentley’s career wasn’t just in jeopardy, so too was his life.
The injury was devastating to Bentley personally and to the entire Browns organization. It set in motion a pall that hung over the 2006 training camp and started a confluence of bizarre events that ultimately resulted in Savage making a trade for Hank Fraley, who today occupies the spot that Bentley coveted upon his return.
When Bentley went down, there was no way to know at that moment how serious the injury ultimately would become let alone whether it would truly imperil Bentley’s career. But as the season progressed, it became clear that Bentley was not going to be ready for the following season either. This put the Browns in a difficult spot.