Browns wide receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs is not going anywhere – for the time being, at least.
Head coach Eric Mangini made that clear on Friday in his daily press conference as the team got ready to make final preparations for Sunday's game at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He said that while the Browns will always listen to what other teams have to say about offers for any of their players, they have no interest in trading Cribbs. He also said that the talented, versatile former Kent State quarterback has not asked to be dealt. He added that he likes Cribbs and what he does for the team, and that he has a good relationship with him.
"He's going to be a Cleveland Brown," Mangini said at one point.
Mangini was hit with a barrage of questions about Cribbs, whose name is being mentioned in numerous trade rumors involving a variety of clubs as the trade deadline nears on Tuesday.
The situation is made-to-order for such speculation. Cribbs, probably the best all-around special teamer and best returner the Browns have ever had, and one of their best and most productive players since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2005, is stuck on a 1-4 team that's going nowhere. He's also playing for a new head coach who, from the moment he arrived nine months ago, has taken a wrecking ball to much of the roster – and the football part of the organization – he inherited as he tries to get the struggling organization back on track.
But the biggest piece to this rumor puzzle is, of course, Cribbs' profound unhappiness with his contract situation. He is contractually obligated to the Browns through 2012 after having signed a six-year extension late in the '06 season. It was a good move financially for Cribbs at the time because it gave him some security. However, with the way he has blossomed as a player since then, the Browns are getting him at a bargain-basement rate.
Former general manager Phil Savage publicly acknowledged all that and said the team would work on getting a new deal done last offseason. But things changed drastically when Savage was fired the day the 2008 season ended with a 31-0 loss in Pittsburgh on Dec. 28. New GM George Kokinis and Mangini have not yet made good on Savage's promise, and while Mangini said Friday the club is always working on those types of external things and that it is "a process" to get them done, it is not clear what, if any, concrete work has been done specifically on Cribbs' situation. Since Mangini and Kokinis were hired, the Browns have been extremely secretive about such matters.
At the beginning of training camp this year, Cribbs mentioned the possibility of holding out of the opener if some progress was not made on a new deal. However, he played in the season-opening 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and in the four games since.
He is averaging 26.1 yards on 20 kickoff returns, with a long-gainer of 58 yards, and is averaging 16.3 yards on 16 punt returns, with a 67-yarder for a touchdown. On offense, he has caught just nine passes for 39 yards, and rushed seven times for 34 yards.
With all that, he might just be the MVP of the Browns thus far.
Cribbs is one of the Browns' most passionate and dedicated players, which Mangini has basically acknowledged, and has said any number of times he wants to remain in Cleveland. At the same time, though, he also says he wants to get paid what he's worth.
Like most coaches, Mangini has never been a fan of such off-the-field distractions, saying Friday that the focus of the team is squarely on the game against the Steelers.
So it remains to be seen if Mangini's determination to stay the course and go full-speed ahead with coaching the team, not letting other things get in the way, will outlast Cribbs' determination to be compensated in a way that he deems to be fair.
Whatever happens, though, the departure of Cribbs would be a blow to the profile of a team that has already suffered such for its inability to win, a coach who has made some controversial off-the-field decisions with his handling of discipline, and the fact that a real fan favorite, quarterback Brady Quinn, has lost his starting job with no return in sight. That's despite the fact that Quinn's replacement, Derek Anderson, was just 2-of-17 passing for 23 yards and one interception, for a quarterback rating of 15.1 -- one of the worst performances in team history – in last Sunday's 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills.
In any event, the timing of all this controversy involving Cribbs seemingly couldn't have come at a worse time – just 50 hours before Sunday's kickoff. The spotlight should instead be fully on the Browns trying to end an 11-game losing streak to the defending Super Bowl champions.
We'll see how much of a distraction it is – if any – on Sunday.