BEREA — Center LeCharles Bentley has decided against having additional surgery on his knee — for now.
Browns general manager Phil Savage met with the media Tuesday after an offseason practice and said Bentley will continue rehabilitation in Arizona for the next three-to-four weeks, then re-evaluate the situation.
Bentley missed the 2006 season after tearing a patellar tendon in training camp. His recovery was compromised by a staph infection that required another surgery and he had been advised to have a third surgery that was scheduled for Tuesday.
While the decision to cancel the surgery allows for the possibility that Bentley could play this season, it’s considered a long shot. His agent told the Associated Press he wouldn’t speculate on Bentley’s chances for a comeback.
“Without reading too much into it, I think it’s a positive sign,” Savage said. “It probably shows some progress with the knee.
“There’s at least a thought process that he’s healing up to a point where he could at least think about (playing).”
If Bentley were able to play, it would be an unexpected boost. Savage spent the offseason operating under the belief that Bentley wouldn’t play this season, if ever again. He re-signed center Hank Fraley to a multiyear deal and added free-agent interior linemen Eric Steinbach and Seth McKinney.
Savage hopes to have a better idea of Bentley’s prognosis within the next month.
“I’m told that we’ll be given some feedback at that time, in terms of where he’s going to be by the time training camp rolls around,” Savage said. “At this point, we’re pushing off another three-to-four weeks before we are really in a position to declare one way or another for the 2007 season.”
Bentley is a Cleveland native and signed a six-year, $36 million deal in March 2006. His excitement at returning home ended on the first play of training camp last summer, when he left the field on the back of a cart.
Bentley has been silent about his health — saying only that he expected to play again at some point. His silence stretches to Savage, who hasn’t spoken with Bentley since February. The team, however, has been in contact with Bentley’s agent.
“He wanted to get away and figure out where he’s going to go with all of this,” Savage said. “With a player like LeCharles, you have to give him freedom and some room to operate. It’s a unique situation. He’s a hometown guy, got a big contract and it all ended in one day. He’s also a unique talent, a unique player.”
Savage was asked if Bentley has a playbook from new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
“I can’t answer that question,” Savage said. “I’m thinking our offensive line coaches and Chud have talked to LeCharles at least on one occasion.”
While Bentley is in the back of the Browns’ minds, their attention is on the players taking part in the offseason program — and making sure they’ll be there when training camp opens at the end of July. With that in mind, the front office has begun contract negotiations with all seven draft picks. With first-day picks left tackle Joe Thomas, quarterback Brady Quinn and cornerback Eric Wright, a member of the front office has met with their agents.
Despite the early start and last year’s success avoiding a holdout with first-round pick Kamerion Wimbley, Savage expects the negotiations to come down to the wire.
“I can’t ever recall one being done before July 4,” Savage said. “We know the drill. We’ll go forward and do the best we can with it.”
He said the team’s made an opening proposal to each pick, but wouldn’t say if there had been counterproposals. He acknowledged that the Quinn discussions could be the most difficult considering his high profile and position, but said the draft-day trade in which the Browns gave up next year’s first-round pick shouldn’t influence the deal.
“On the surface, you’d like to think he’s the 22nd pick in the draft so it’s going to be stair-stepped,” Savage said. “Wait for 21, wait for 23 and 22 slots in there. But his side is going to think that there is going to be a premium with the quarterback position.
“There’s going to be a natural argument built in to this negotiation. We know this, but we’re trying to get out in front of it, get in front of his people and say this is what our thinking is.”
Coach Romeo Crennel had a simple message for his rookies.
“If they’re here (when camp starts), they give themselves the best chance to make the team and be a contributing member,” he said.
Savage also announced changes to the front office. Bill Rees has stepped down as director of player personnel to attend to a family issue in Chicago. He will be able to work from there in his new role as player personnel/special projects.
T.J. McCreight received a promotion from assistant director and takes over for Rees. Steve Sabo takes over as director of pro personnel.
“This is the first tangible evidence that I can point to from a personnel standpoint where we have some continuity within our own building and are able to promote from within,” Savage said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.