Jeff Schudel of the News Herald published an article last night with the following title: "Cribbs' on-field value to Browns diminishing." He adds an immediate disclaimer to the article that says it does not mean that Cribbs' skills are diminishing, but that the rule changes made on kickoffs last year makes him expendable [in 2013] for the type of money he is making.
Cribbs played as hard as ever in 2011, and he still throws his body around without care for his own bones or ligaments. But unless he is willing to play for substantially less than the $1,438,000 he will make this season — the final year of his contract — the Browns might choose to let him walk after 2012 because rule changes last year in the name of player safety neutered Cribbs and all the other dangerous kick returners. Cribbs will be 30 before the 2013 season begins.
I understand the point that Schudel is attempting to make. When Cribbs campaigned for a new deal to new team president Mike Holmgren a few years ago, the kickoff rules made it possible for a player like Cribbs to have a much greater impact on the outcome of a game. Now, the new kickoff rules pretty much negate any kick returner's potential, and Cribbs is several years older. There are other things that should be kept in mind to counter Schudel's argument, though:
- Cribbs was given a high contract because his role as a receiver was expected to increase too. Last year, he had a career high 41 catches for 518 yards and 4 touchdowns. As a receiver, I still stand by my opinion that he looked like the most polished guy on the roster last year.
- Any time the Browns tried to do a trick play with Cribbs last year, nobody was fooled because the rest of our offense was so abysmally bad. When you add some potentially game-changing players (Weeden and Richardson), maybe those "tricks," or even plays like receiver screens, start working.
- If the Browns can go to being a power run team at times, Cribbs is the ideal fit for a blocking receiver. He'll block better than Massaquoi, Norwood, or Benjamin, presumably.
- Cribbs is still a factor on punt returns (especially in terms of comfort in fielding the ball) and as a special teams tackler (where he led the team in 2011).
Yes, the kickoff factor was removed from Cribbs' arsenal, and the guy probably shouldn't ask for another raise in contract negotiations. However, to say he should accept something "substantially less" seems a bit over-the-top, especially given the years of service (eight) Cribbs will have with the Browns after the 2012 season.