Joshua Cribbs’ impressive performance paid off for the team on Thursday night.
And that – along with everything else he’s done this season, and throughout his career – may pay off for him personally at some point, possibly soon.
Browns head coach Eric Mangini, speaking Friday about 14 hours after his team ended a 12-game losing streak to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 13-6 win at Cleveland Browns Stadium, said that putting together a new contract for Cribbs is “something we’re working on and want to move forward with. Yeah, I imagine it’s something we’ll get done.”
Cribbs is contractually obligated to the Browns through 2012 after having agreed to a six-year extension on Nov. 3, 2006, near the midway point of his second season with the Browns and in the NFL. It seemed a good thing at the time because it provided some much-needed financial security for Cribbs, who came into pro football through the back door, at the bottom of the NFL food chain, as a rookie free agent who was asked to make the quantum-leap switch from slash-type college quarterback at Kent State to a kick and punt returner and coverage man, and wide receiver.
But he quickly out-grew the financial rewards of the contract, so much so that the general manager last season, Phil Savage, said the organization in the offseason would begin looking into getting a new deal for Cribbs, who has become the top returner in the league and probably the club’s best player. But that plan went up in smoke when Savage was fired at the end of the season.
Mangini and general manager George Kokinis seemed reluctant to do anything when they were hired 11 months ago, and that didn’t appear to change. Then Kokinis was fired halfway through the season, further clouding the issue.
Cribbs said the lack of movement on the contract negotiations “frustrated” him and his representation to the point where he indicated during training camp that he was entertaining thoughts about boycotting the start of the season. That failed to materialize, but he has never stopped being intent on trying to get something done as soon as possible.
So what Mangini said early Friday afternoon seemed to enthuse Cribbs. Speaking on a conference call with the Cleveland media about an hour later, he said, “I hope that something will be done. I try to show what I’m capable of doing. I speak about my contract with my play on the field.
“Leverage is everything, and the only leverage I have is playing well.”
And he has indeed done that – play well, that is -- again, for a fifth straight year.
In the win over the Steelers, while working a lot as the quarterback in the wildcat offense, he rushed eight times for 87 yards, averaging 10.9 yards a carry, leading a rushing attack that shredded the usually run-stingy Steelers to the tune of 171 yards, tying a season high, in 37 tries (4.6).
His 37-yard run led to a field goal, and his 55-yard punt return set the stage for another one.
Afterwards, everybody on the Browns was raving about Cribbs, and Mangini did it once more on Friday.
And why not? Cribbs is averaging 14.0 yards on punt returns and has a touchdown, 25.7 on kickoff returns and has another TD, and 7.3 as a rusher (305 yards in 42 carries), while being fourth on the team in receptions with 19, good for 132 yards.
When he’s used in that role, he’s also the team’s best kick coverage man.
But it’s what he did as a rusher against the Steelers, when the Browns used a heaping dose of him in the wildcat, that has some people, including a few of his offensive teammates, clamoring more than ever for him to be used even more as a running back.
“After blocking for him and watching him run, there’s no question in my mind that he could be an NFL running back,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said on another conference call.
That would be fine with Cribbs.
“The wildcat is me,” he said. “I’m not trying to fool anybody. I’m just getting the ball and running with it, and the guys (on offense) are respecting me for that and I respect them for the way they block for me.”
Now it appears almost certain he will be really respected and compensated – fairly – for his running ability, heart, toughness and everything else he brings to the Browns.
After giving so much for so long to the team, it will finally be his turn.