This past offseason, the Cleveland Browns had 18 free agents. There were a few players that you could have made the argument that should have been re-signed by the team. Among them are Phil Dawson (second all-time leading scorer in team history), Ben Watson (literally a football genius), and Josh Cribbs (the best return man in Browns history).
For this post, I’m going to concentrate on Josh Cribbs.
Josh Cribbs was a very good special teams player for a number of years. He was a beast on special teams coverage, always seeming to be able to get to the ball carrier and make good tackles. He is also one of the most effective return men in the history of the NFL.
But that’s all he was… a return man who sometimes played as a wide receiver. Although, calling him a wide receiver is a stretch, considering these were his receiving totals over 8 years as a Cleveland Brown:
- Receptions: 107 (13.4 per year)
- Receiving Yards: 1161 (145 per year)
- Receiving TDs: 7 (under 1 per year)
As a kickoff and punt returner, Cribbs holds the following franchise records:
- Most career Kickoff return yards (8,837)
- Most career combined Kickoff and Punt return yards (10,534)
- Most career All-purpose yards (12,343)
- Most kickoff return yards in a single season: 1,809 (2007)
- Most kickoff return touchdowns in a single season: 3 (2009)
- Most All-purpose yards in a single season: 2,510 (2009)
- Most career combined Kickoff and Punt return touchdowns (11)
But over the past few years, it was clear that he had lost more than a step. Watching him on kickoff and punt returns his final 3 seasons with the Browns was like watching my grandfather trying to chase down a squirrel in his backyard. It was clear Cribbs no longer had any burst and he had zero breakaway speed. In fact, he had only scored 1 touchdown in his final 3 seasons with the team. What was the real reason for his lack of effectiveness the past few seasons for the Browns?
For all of the good things he had said about Cleveland during his tenure here, his true feelings for the team came out in an interview on October 27th, 2013 after the Jets got blown out by the Bengals. A final of 49 – 9. After that game, Cribbs is quoted as saying “We’re not the Browns… We’re not the team that gives up. We have fight in this team.”
“We’re not the Browns… We’re not the team that gives up. We have fight in this team.”
Was he no longer effective on kickoff and punt returns for the Browns because he lost his motivation? Was he disillusioned by being on a team that lost 10 or more games all but one year he was on the roster? Maybe. But he didn’t light the world on fire this season on two other teams either. In fact, he didn’t make it out of the preseason with the Raiders and then didn’t get picked up by the Jets until week 7 of the NFL season. Seemingly, the only reason the Jets picked him up was because of an injury which ended Clyde Gates’ season, the Jets’ return specialist.
If we look at things objectively and ignore our emotional attachment to Cribbs, he was a one-dimensional player who was no longer effective in that dimension. Any long-time Browns fan will remember Bill Belichick’s comments about Bernie Kosar’s release citing “diminishing skills.” Bernie was released in favor of Vinny Testaverde and, looking back, Belichick was right. And that’s exactly what the Browns were facing with Cribbs.
Fans who were crying for him to be re-signed by the Browns just didn’t want to see their favorite player leave the team, much like when Kosar got released. But the Browns have what looks to be a stud in Travis Benjamin as a return man. Benjamin was to Cribbs as Testaverde was to Kosar. In Benjamin’s first season with the team, he set a franchise record with a 93 yard punt return for a TD. He showed Cribbs up and exposed his diminishing skills.
As Browns fans, it’s really easy to get emotionally attached to players who are better than average. But we tend to OVER value them and think of them as “great” when they’re just “good,” especially when they’re past their prime. I think we do this because we have had so few positives to grab onto over the past 15 years. When there’s a player that seems to want to play in Cleveland and they’re above average for at least one season, we invest everything we have into them. It’s like a starving person who considers the Bravo restaurant to be “great” Italian cuisine when, in actuality, it’s just “good”… if that.
I say we start setting the standards higher. I think we’re starting to see true “great” players on this team (Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, and Joe Haden). It’s time to start expecting more from our players. Players who teams have to scheme for… players who do more than kick a ball or return a kick pretty well. It’s time we start setting our standards back to the Jim Brown level. We’ve had him in the past, we can have him again.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to shovel 2 tons of snow the street plow just shoved into the apron of my driveway.