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Over the next few months, we'll be doing a series of posts that highlight game-changing moves that have occurred since the end of last season. The order in which the posts appear don't reflect the importance of that move in comparison to another move. Thanks again to Sprint for sponsoring these posts, as they have been a very good sponsor for the SBN network.
Game-Changing Offseason Move #1: Retaining Joshua Cribbs
Two years ago, Joshua Cribbs was supposedly promised a new contract by the Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel regime. When Savage was given the boot in favor of George Kokinis and Eric Mangini last season, Cribbs was basically told that they couldn't grant promises by the old regime; Cribbs had to earn his dues again.
How well did Cribbs do? He returned four kicks for touchdowns on the season -- three on kickoffs, and one as a punt returner. Cribbs' return ability and the fact that teams often kicked the ball out of bounds or short to keep the ball out of his hands set the Browns up with the best starting field position in all of football. As a returner, Cribbs continued to be a miracle worker.
With Donte Stallworth out and two rookies on the team, Cribbs was expected to play a bigger role as a wide receiver. That's an area he fell short in despite posting a career best 20 receptions for 135 yards and 1 touchdown. Where Cribbs really excelled on offense was in the Wildcat formation as a runner. Cribbs churned out 381 yards on 55 carries, a 6.9 YPC average. His best effort came in our 13-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14, when he ran the ball 8 times for 87 yards. He followed that up the next week by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns in a shootout game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Considering the inept play at quarterback and the fact that our running game was a bore until the end of the season, Cribbs represented the only threat the Browns had to score most of the season. Even then, teams couldn't stop him.
Then the offseason game, and one of Cribbs' worst nightmares came true -- the front office changed again, and it appeared that Cribbs was going to have to earn his dues with another season's worth of worth.
At first, there was panic. Before new team president Mike Holmgren could get settled in, Dawn Aponte gave Cribbs and the media the impression that she and Holmgren shared the same opinion that a lowball offer they had made to Cribbs was their final offer.
Cribbs vowed that his career with the Browns was likely over and that a trade was inevitable. Despite the hardball move that Cribbs and his agents pulled, deep down inside, I don't think Browns fans thought Cribbs would be leaving. We just had that "gut feeling" (not a Butch Davis one) that once Holmgren and a new general manager got settled in, they could discuss things with Cribbs and work something out.
Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. Aponte was ditched, Holmgren began the negotiations with Cribbs, and a month or so later, Cribbs signed a three-year, $20 million contract.
Cribbs was a game-changer on and off the field with his dazzling plays and community work. Making sure he remained a member of the Cleveland Browns was clearly a game-changing offseason move, and a reason that the Browns didn't have to go out and try to acquire a player like Ted Ginn Jr. to fill the return-game void that so many teams in the NFL have.