Since John Taylor broke the news that KR/WR Josh Cribbs would not attend last week's mini-camp, Browns fans have been asking themselves a number of questions about Cribbs' value to the team and his approach towards negotiating a new deal.
I've talked with a number of people close to the situation, and have my own view on the matter, which I felt it valuable to share.
In my view, Josh Cribbs simply wants to receive what he believes the organization committed to him over the course of the last year. The Cribbs camp seeks progress in contract discussions, and the returner has come back to voluntary workouts as a sign of good faith.
Heading into third year of a six-year, six-million dollar deal, Cribbs has arguably outperformed the contract he signed in 2006, which seems to have been reinforced to Cribbs by leaders within the organization that have since been replaced. Cribbs has seen the likes of star return specialist Devin Hester ink a large deal with the Chicago Bears. Hester had not arrived in a position other than in the return game, yet received a rewarding deal from the Bears, much like what Cribbs seeks today.
The Browns leadership has their own issues that they're struggling to resolve. The team's owner disputes claims he offered to 'take care' of the player, which is, in turn, hotly disputed by the player's camp.
Coming in late in the game from Cribbs' perspective, Browns new head coach and GM are struggling not only with promises that may have been made in the past, but with the Pro Bowl returner's value. Simply put, they are unsure whether Cribbs is only a special teams standout, or an athlete who can evolve into a more prominent role.
The irony here is that Cribbs is believed to be on the cusp of gaining additional playing time for the Browns heading into the 2009 season, an experiment which could dramatically increase his value to the team, or reveal that his potential outside of the return game is unlikely to be realized. The coaching staff in Cleveland is of the belief the athletic Cribbs could contribute in the defensive backfield, as well as at wide receiver, in specialty plays in the backfield, along with his duties as kick return specialist.
The staff in Cleveland, however, is not sold on Cribbs the wide receiver. Where the staff does see potential is in the defensive backfield, due to his natural athletic ability. The Browns view Cribbs as a potential physical type presence in the defensive backfield, the Browns also believe that Cribbs would need time to develop the skill and recognition necessary to be more than a role player.
Awarding Cribbs a new contract based on special teams play and a premise that he may develop into something more than a role player is not going to happen easily. Understandably, the organization would like to see if Cribbs truly has the ability to develop into a prominent role outside of special teams.
As the impasse continues, the Browns would like to see what they have in Cribbs. The organization is not simply attempting to put a player under contract in his place. Rather, they openly want to work with the player to see if he can provide a dynamic presence in other than on special teams.
For Cribbs, its all about what he has achieved and what he feels the organization promised him. From his perspective, he did not go knocking on the door asking to be 'taken care of'.
All Cribbs wants is to see some progress toward a new deal, while the Browns want Cribbs to show them what he can do to reward him in other than a special teams type contract.
Without give on one or both sides, the problem seems intractable. If played incorrectly, the contract impasse has all the makings of a situation on the verge of getting much worse.