By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Former Browns receiver David Nelson openly questioned the team for acquiring Davone Bess in a trade last April after signing him in free agency in March.
“I’m at the point in my life where I can be totally honest. Yes, there were conversations about that,” Nelson said Thursday touring radio row at the Super Bowl media center. “They said all those things about competition and all that. I understood.”
Nelson said he had no knowledge of the troubles that would beset Bess later in the year. But the transactions involving Bess and Nelson were strong plot lines in the Browns’ season that went awry.
Nelson, released at the final cut in September while he was slow to recover from offseason knee surgery, eventually joined the Jets. Bess had a terrible season and was put on the non-football injury list after experiencing non-disclosed personal issues and erratic behavior. These events came to a confluence right here at MetLife Stadium in Game 15 on Dec. 22.
Bess was out of the lineup and the offense struggled, as usual. And Nelson, healthier than he’d been in almost two years, scored two touchdowns in the Jets’ 24-13 victory. The loss cemented the decision of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner to fire coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff.
In warmups before the game, Nelson said he heard an earful from Browns players who were confused about odd behavior and then the disappearance of Bess. He also heard encouraging words from Chudzinski, who told him he was happy his season finally had turned around.
“I had tremendous respect for Bess,” Nelson said. “When I was there, our lockers were next to each other’s. He was excited to be there. I found him to be great for Josh (Gordon). He worked hard. Josh saw that. Everybody saw that.
“The stuff I heard (before the game) was all uncharacteristic of things I’d seen when I was there. He ended up leading the league in drops (actually was second, with 14) and he’d never done that before. Everything that happened was uncharacteristic of him, so you know something must have happened to him.”
After the season, Bess experienced more bizarre behavior, which has put his career in jeopardy. Bess’ 2014 contract for $3 million-plus is guaranteed. Banner has said Bess remains on the Browns’ roster, but his position will be reviewed at a later date.
Meanwhile, Nelson -- a strapping 6-5 -- is feeling good about his future now that he is healthy. He is under contract with the Jets for 2014.
“I don’t know if I’d say I’m happy (about what happened), but I definitely think everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m in a better (offensive) system with the Jets. I’m more of a precise route-runner. That (Norv Turner) offense is more ‘get to a spot as fast you can.’ I can be more productive in what the Jets do.”
Nelson fully expected to be released at the final cut of the Browns because he was not fully recovered and was told the team couldn’t wait for him.
After he was signed by the Browns in March, he received permission to leave the team twice – once to continue rehabilitation on his knee with a personal trainer in Dallas, and then to pursue his “calling” to build an orphanage in Haiti. He said that when his recovery hit a snag in training camp, he was told that in hindsight he should have concentrated on rehab with the team.
Nelson wound up starting three games for the Jets and in 15 games overall he had 36 receptions for 423 yards and two TDs. Bess had 42 for 362 and two TDs.
The saddest part of this story is that Bess’ career appears to be over, Nelson is long gone and the Browns need receivers to complement the All-Pro Gordon.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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