ALSO: Get the perspective from Seattle in our
Blog. Was a contract dispute with Cribbs inevitable from the moment Holmgren
came to town?
In more ways than one, the timing was impeccable on Wednesday.
On just the second full day of Mike Holmgren’s tenure as Browns president,
and on the same day that the team’s top star, Joshua Cribbs, was named AFC
Special Teams Player of the Month for December, contract negotiations between
the club and the two-time Pro Bowl returner hit a rough patch.
Cribbs has three years remaining on a three-year, $6.7 million contract he
signed in 2006, but he has wanted since midway through the 2008 season to get
the deal re-done. After much talk and no action, the Browns finally came through
with some concrete terms, an offer of $1.4 million per year, which Peter
Schaffer, Cribbs’ agent along with J.R. Rickert, called “insulting.”
Schaffer said Cribbs will never play another down for the Browns unless they
treat him fairly, and the returner agrees, saying he doesn’t want to leave
the team but may be forced to do so. In training camp last summer, when talk of
wanting his contract re-done really heated up, Cribbs said he might hold out at
the start of the season, but gradually backed off the threat and played all year
anyway and set records and went to the Pro Bowl after a one-year absence..
Now it appears, though, that he and his representation have drawn a line in
the sand from which they won’t back down easily. And if that’s indeed the
case, then the Cribbs camp could be in for a long, difficult fight with the
Browns, for Holmgren’s history as general manager of the Seattle Seahawks from
1999-2002 indicates he’s no shrinking violet when it comes to contract
negotiations. He comes off as being this big man who’s a warm lovable fuzzball,
but he can dig in himself and be tough when he wants to do so.
Holmgren exhibited a bit of that when he touched on the subject during his
introductory press conference on Tuesday. When asked if he was working on a new
contract for Cribbs and how soon that could be accomplished, he said, “Well
that’s the question. We’ve been in contact with his representatives even when I
was in Arizona (where he has a home and was staying immediately before coming to
“I believe players should be rewarded for what they do. I have no problems
with that at all. What happens, though, on occasion is our view of how much that
should be and the agent’s view of how much that should be differs.
“We have made an effort. We will continue to make an effort to handle Josh’s
situation. I want Josh here.
“Now, he has three years left on his existing contract, so it’s a little
unprecedented to start doing things this early in a contract like that. Having
said that, a player should get what he deserves in my opinion, and he’s been a
fine player. It’s just that business part of it that we’re going through now.
“We’re trying, and I hope how we do that is good enough.”
During that initial four-year stretch in Seattle, when he served as GM along
with being head coach, sometimes what Holmgren did was good enough to keep a
player, and sometimes it wasn’t.
Almost immediately upon coming to the Seahawks, contract disputes with
Saginaw Valley (Mich.) defensive end Lamar King, the Seahawks’ first-round
choice in Holmgren’s initial NFL Draft with the team, and veteran wide receiver
Joey Galloway from Bellaire (Ohio) High School and Ohio State, ensued and caused
both to miss the start of training camp that year.
Galloway wanted a five-year, $25 million deal with a $10 million signing
bonus, and Holmgren countered with a seven-year, $35 offer with a $7 million
When things got testy and no progress was being made, contract talks with
Galloway were called off three weeks after camp began. Early in the following
offseason, Galloway was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for first-round draft
choices in 2000 and ’01, the first of which landed Alabama running back Shaun
Alexander, who turned out to be a superstar with the Seahawks. Wide
receiver Koren Robinson, a total bust, was taken with the 2001 pick.
Amidst all the Galloway controversy, back in the early portion of the 1999
training camp, the Seahawks gave three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael
Sinclair a $6 million signing bonus as part of a seven-year, $35 million
extension. However, that really wasn’t Holmgren’s doing, since team president
Bob Whitsitt had promised Sinclair a long-term deal long before Holmgren was
On the same day that Galloway was traded, Feb. 12, 2000, defensive end
Phillip Daniels, probably Seattle’s best defensive lineman overall, was allowed
to leave in free agency, signing a lucrative contract with the Chicago Bears.
Holmgren later referred to allowing Daniels to get away as “a rookie mistake,”
but whatever the case, the move hurt the line for at least two years, according
to close observers of the Seahawks.
Nine days later, the Seahawks did spend the money, signing safety Reggie
Tongue away from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency and giving him a $3.5
million bonus. After a rough start in which he was benched, Tongue became a good
player for Seattle.
A month after that, on March 17, 2000, the Seahawks signed free-agent center
Robbie Tobeck to what was described as “a salary cap-friendly deal.” He ended up
missing all of that season with a knee injury but, like Tongue, recovered to be
a key player for the team.
On tax day 2000, Holmgren let another top defensive lineman get away in free
agency when massive nose tackle Sam Adams was allowed to sign with Baltimore.
Holmgren wasn’t enamored at all with Adams, who went on to play
a significant role with the Ravens on their improbable march to a Super Bowl
championship that year.
However, when he thought it was worth it, Holmgren spent money on the
defensive line in free agency, signing Minnesota Vikings tackle John Randle to a
five-year, $25 million contract in March 2001 that was called risky by some. It
was a good move, though, for Randle continued to play at a high level.
Holmgren dished out the cash in other areas in other areas to help the
defense. He signed Chad Eaton to a cap-friendly deal at about that same time,
and the tackle performed well. Eaton got some help behind him exactly a month
later, in April 2001, when the Seahawks lured linebacker Lavon Kirkland away
from the Pittsburgh Steelers, signing him to a three-year deal. Kirkland had
good performances as well. However, in 2002, he was cut in training camp after
failing to lose weight, per an agreement, then went to Philadelphia and starred.
In addition, at about that same time in spring 2001, Holmgren got help for
the back end of the defense by signing Tennessee Titans safety Marcus Robertson,
who was hurt for much of the 2001 season.
Seattle designated Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones as their franchise
player in February 2002 after failing to reach a contract agreement with him.
However, Jones refused to sign the one-year, $4.92 million offer and followed
that up by skipping minicamps and training camp. Contract talks broke off in
September of that year, then shortly later, Jones signed a one-year offer and
rejoined the Seahawks for the third game.
Holmgren’s salary negotiations ended when he resigned as GM and executive
vice president on Dec. 31, 2002, but he remained as head coach while also firing
his entire defensive coaching staff.
“I think the biggest title you can have is Super Bowl champion,”
Holmgren said at the time. “When I thought long and hard about that and what’s
important to me, (wife) Kathy, this football team and this organization, the
titles take a back seat. They really do.
“It’s about coming together, winning, having fun doing it and getting to the
The Seahawks finally got to the Super Bowl following the 2005 season, losing
to the Steelers. Now Holmgren is with another team in the Browns that, like
Seattle when he arrived, has never been to a Super Bowl.
Holmgren got the Seahawks to the Super Bowl without Joey Galloway. It appears
the Browns will never make it to the big game in the near future without the
contributions of Joshua Cribbs.
So how will these negotiations turn out? Who knows? But with both sides
determined and committed, it should be interesting to watch.