Cribbs Is Here... For Now

Steve King gives OBR readers the lowdown on where exactly the Cribbs' contract situation stands -- and where it may ultimately go.

Josh Cribbs is with the Browns now.

And, unless something unforeseen happens, he'll probably continue to remain with the team.

But there are no guarantees at all that he'll be with them when it really starts counting the most, on Sept. 13 when the regular season opens with a visit by the Minnesota Vikings to Cleveland Browns Stadium.

He said exactly that on Saturday morning following the first practice of training camp.

"I can't make any predictions with what's going to happen in the future, when the season begins," Cribbs said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Cribbs is not happy with his contract situation, believing he's very much underpaid. He is contractually bound to the Browns through 2012, having signed a six-year extension in Nov. 2006, about halfway through his second season. He thought it was a good idea then because it gave a young player some security, but, after going to the Pro Bowl following the 2007 season and becoming one of the best players on the team, he wishes now that he hadn't done it. He wishes he had listened to former teammate Dennis Northcutt, who cautioned him not to do it.

"The Browns had me," he said. "You take a kid off the street who doesn't have a dime, who is eager to play football and eager to play in the NFL. It was a good business decision on the part of the Browns. For me, it was a learning process."

Cribbs was present for the voluntary three-day minicamp that concluded the Browns' spring work and set the stage for training camp, but as a public display of his disappointment with his contract and to get the Browns to sit down with his agent and talk about a new deal, he purposely missed some sessions. His agent and the Browns are now talking, but, according to Cribbs, "Not that much progress is being made."

He showed up for the start of camp as a show of good faith and indicates that he will remain through camp and the four preseason games.

"I'm here practicing," Cribbs said.

And holding his breath.

"My main fear has always been that I'll get injured and won't be able to provide for my family," he said. "When you're a player and you get hurt, you're done. There's no more money. There's no more anything."

So Cribbs says that while he's healthy, he wants to get a contract that will protect him financially – as much as most NFL contracts, which are largely non-guaranteed, can protect a player. But since he's currently under contract – for a long time – he realizes he's in kind of a difficult situation.

"My only leverage is that I've given my heart to this team," he said.

Indeed he has. No one on the Browns plays harder or with more passion. Cribbs treats each play as if it's his last. That's a by-product from his having come into the NFL through the back door – the hard way – as a rookie free agent who was a quarterback at Kent State and was being asked to switch to wide receiver and play special teams for the first time in his life.

Browns head coach Eric Mangini seems to understand that.

"The thing's that's important for both he and I is that he's focusing on getting better at the things we're asking to him do and getting better collectively,0 he said.

However, he said he would not discuss contract issues.

But somewhere in the organization – with general manager George Kokinis and vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte, who handle contract negotiations – it is being discussed, or will be soon.

And while it goes on, Cribbs vows to stay out of it – for a while, anyway.

"It's hard to separate the business part with the football part," Cribbs said. "Me and Coach Mangini are buddies. We're on the same page. But it's hard to do business with friends.

"Handling business is not what I do. That's what I have an agent for. I'm a player. I'm about playing football.

"Hopefully, things will get worked out for the best for both me and the Browns."

Cribbs needs the Browns. As mentioned, he's under contract. But the Browns need Cribbs as well. He's one of the foundations Mangini will use to rebuild the Browns, and to not have him – even for a relatively brief period of time until these negotiations can get settled – would hurt the team in a lot of ways. That is, the Browns would be losing not just one player, but, in essence, a number of players since Cribbs since returns kickoffs and punts (he may be the best in team history), is their best cover man on special teams, serves as a backup wide receiver and has been mentioned as a possible defensive back in passing situations, In fact, the Browns have never had a more versatile player.

He has said he will play anywhere he's asked, including nose tackle. He said that only half-kiddingly.

So it's incumbent to both parties that an agreement be struck. The clock is running. That opener is about six weeks away, but it will be here before you know it.

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