On the surface, it seemed like a little spat, a small disagreement between two sides that would be remedied quickly.
And just as quickly, it spiraled out of control and didn't have to.
Because of it, the Browns were forced to issue a statement regarding the club's contract – let's call it a misunderstanding for now – with return specialist Joshua Cribbs.
Cribbs insisted the club, specifically owner Randy Lerner, promised to take care of his contract, i.e. renegotiate since he has outperformed it. The Browns begged to differ, issuing the following statement:
"Contrary to published reports . . . no one from the current Browns organization, including owner Randy Lerner, has ever made any promises to Josh Cribbs with regard to his contract status."
Now, we wander into the jungle world of semantics. Use of the words "current Browns organization" entails the likes of Eric Mangini and George Kokinis and that part very well might be true. And "contract status" covers a broad range of possibilities.
Mangini and Kokinis obviously don't place Cribbs on the same pedestal as the previous regime (Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel). Why else would they recruit free-agent Chris Carr, a return specialist, during this offseason?
The new Cleveland duo might be able to work wonders in the personnel department, but it also appears as though they also have considerable clout with an owner whose reputation of being truthful is being severely tested.
When "including owner Randy Lerner" is invoked, the Browns' statement takes on an entirely different meaning. When the top man in the organization permits his name to be attached to the statement, that's getting serious.
It has become the word of a player unhappy with his contract because he has outplayed it against an owner whose memory is either selective, failing or spot on. Then again, with apologies to Roger Clemens, maybe Lerner misremembered.
We have a football player who gladly signed an exquisitely club-friendly six-year contract (actually a series of six one-year contracts) a couple of years ago. After all, he was signed as a free agent out of Kent State and was thrilled the club thought that highly of him to offer a pro contract.
Nothing was guaranteed except the signing bonus and a few other lesser bonuses. No one put a weapon to Cribbs' head and demanded he sign the contract two years ago. He did so willingly. He couldn't have been happier. If there's anyone to blame here, Cribbs should stare at the nearest mirror.
He went out and more than justified the money in the contract. He was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and was extremely instrumental in helping his team shock the National Football League with a 10-6 record.
Now, he wants to tear up that pact with four years left. He wants a bump in salary commensurate with his contributions to the team. (Just wondering . . . could the club have demanded some money back had Cribbs not played well? Rhetorical question.)
Accusations have flown back and forth between the two camps and <a href="http://cle.scout.com/2/865884.html">both are staunch in refuting the other</a>. The Browns have all but come out and labeled Cribbs a liar when he suggested Lerner promised him in a telephone call on the team bus following last season's final game that he "would be taken care of" with regard to his contract following the college draft.
Someone's not telling the truth and it had better be the Cribbs faction or else the Browns are in deep trouble. There a few things more harmful to a team's success than an owner who plays fast and loose with the truth with his players.
Either Lerner made that call to Cribbs or the player has a hell of an imagination.
Either way, it appears as though the owner is throwing Cribbs under a bus and not necessarily the one on which he allegedly took that call.
Now Cribbs has <a href="http://cle.scout.com/2/866578.html">come out with a public statement</a> regarding the situation entitled, according to <a href="http://www.profootballtalk.com">ProFootballTalk.com</a>, "Josh Cribbs' Statement in His Own Words." Bad move. It is poorly written, poorly thought out and immature. It serves no other purpose than to exacerbate the situation.
Within the context of that statement is this ludicrous assertion: "If we are lucky, we get 10 years at best to make all the money we can to last the rest of our life."
The rest of our life? Does that mean that when his playing days are over, Cribbs plans on doing nothing? Just sit back and live on the money he's made? This guy is getting some bad advice.
"This is not personal, but I have to be a man and take care of my family for not just a year or two, but for as long as I am walking on this earth." How is he going to take care of that family? By lounging around and dipping into the money he made as a professional football player for the rest of his life?
"I want nothing more but to wear the Browns' logo on my chest until my career has come to an end and I am deeply disappointed that the team I put my hard work, blood, sweat and tears in (sic) will just write me off as though I am collateral damage."
Collateral damage? Is this war? Have any lives been lost? Talk about being melodramatic.
With statements like that, Cribbs is going to lose an awful lot of credibility with the plug-uglies who will never earn as much he does now; who won't earn as much in their lifetimes as he did when he signed that contract.
Here's a piece of unsolicited advice for Cribbs. Don't listen to your handlers. Seek the wisdom of those who preceded you, those retired players who have a much better understanding of life after football.
Talk with them and let them show you how unwise you are in your thinking. Let them show you there's much more to life than football and that the separation between the two can be awfully hard from a psychological standpoint.
I don't know if Cribbs has a graduate degree, but if he doesn't, it might be a good idea to go back to college, get that degree, then go out and see what the real world is like. Go out and see what the average Joe makes and get some perspective. Go out and see what you do for a living now is a privilege, not an entitlement.
Understand that you have already made more money in your brief four years with the Browns than most people will make in their professional lifetime.
You've got your whole life in front of you. Believe it or not, there is life after football. And you've got a damn good head start monetarily on that life.
What, then, should Cribbs have done? Remained silent, that's what. Take the high road and be a bigger man because of it. That would have saved him and the club more embarrassment.
The dispute, not surprisingly, has spawned the overwrought pay-me-or-trade-me talk. That's nothing more than posturing and should not be taken seriously. Cribbs isn't going anywhere but back to receive the opening kickoff for the Browns in September.
Should the Browns buckle – if they do, it will set a very dangerous precedent – and Cribbs signs a new contract and outperforms that one in two years, then what? Here we go again? It's got to end somewhere.
And when this whole unfortunate mess is over, it'll have a Shakespearean beginning (Much Ado About Nothing) and a Shakespearean conclusion (All's Well That Ends Well) with a lot of rhetorical nonsense in between.
When the Cardinals rewarded fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald with a $10 million-a-year contract last year, Boldin, who still had three years left on his pact, wanted to renegotiate.
Reportedly, the Cardinals told him not to worry, that he'd be taken care of, or words to that effect. When they didn't, Boldin asked to be traded. Bitched and moaned. Sat out minicamp.
Eventually, Boldin reported to training camp and had a great 2008 season. Why? Because he's a professional.
So is Cribbs.