July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Cribbs just could not stay away

Scott Petrak

The Gazette

BEREA — Joshua Cribbs went to the movies. He pictured his teammates relaxing at home. He listened to his agents and thought of the millions he deserved to be making.

No matter what he did, Cribbs couldn’t forget he was missing minicamp.

So he dropped his “holdout” and returned to practice Tuesday — without a renegotiated contract. He was there again Wednesday, returning kicks, covering kicks and catching a receiver screen in his familiar No. 16 jersey.

“It was eating me up,” Cribbs said. “When a guy has an injury and he’s not with his team, that’s how it felt. And I didn’t have an injury, so there was nothing keeping me from going back. I said to my agent, ‘Look, you all handle that, I’m going back with the team.’

“I want to play football, I’m here to play football and I’m going to be on this football team. Hopefully everything works out in both our favor and we can make a compromise for myself and the team.”

Cribbs has four years left on a six-year, $6.7 million deal, with the remaining yearly salaries around $700,000. He said he was promised a new deal last year by Phil Savage, who was then fired as general manager at the end of the season.

New general manager George Kokinis and coach Eric Mangini have been reluctant to renegotiate, and Cribbs wouldn’t say if he would ask to be traded if he doesn’t get a new contract.

“I can’t tell the future,” he said. “I have a good rapport with the fans. I love being here in Cleveland. That’s the most important thing.”

Cribbs backed off the claim that owner Randy Lerner had reiterated the promise of a new con-tract during a phone call on Cribbs’ bus ride home following the season-ending loss to Pittsburgh.

“I’m not throwing anybody under the bus, especially our owner,” said Cribbs, who hasn’t talked to Lerner recently. “Randy’s done a good job leading this football team and putting the right people in positions to make those decisions.

“The phone call I got? My mom.”

The Browns issued a statement last week denying anyone from the current administration, in-cluding Lerner, had promised a new deal.

“The statement was true, no current people,” Cribbs said. “The old regime had made promises to me. I just felt funny about it.”

Cribbs said the change at the top of the organization immediately gave him an uneasy feeling that his new deal wasn’t going to happen.

“That was in the back of my mind, but I always felt like if you endear yourself to a team and to this community that they would pay you for it, just show that honor,” he said. “But it’s a business.”

Skipping even “voluntary” minicamp doesn’t fit Cribbs’ personality. He works hard, has endless energy and takes pleasure in the menial tasks of the profession.

“It was agony. I had to put in my mind the team wasn’t practicing, that guys were sitting at home like I was,” he said. “I was trying to fill my day with other things.”

Cribbs was already antsy when he came to team headquarters last Thursday to talk with Mangini, and the meeting convinced him of his next move.

“It was real evident to me that the team was going on without me,” Cribbs said. “This team is not going to lose any sleep over one guy.

“The team is bigger than just one player. This town is bigger than me. I just want to be a part of it.”

Cribbs realized that despite a Pro Bowl season in 2007 and back-to-back seasons as the only NFL player to lead his team in return yardage and special teams tackles, he had to start over with a new coach and GM.

“I came in feeling I didn’t have to prove myself, but this is a new regime,” he said. “I’ve got to think about how I came into the NFL, how I was willing to just play football, just proud to be on a football team. I’ve got to show them what I can do and I’ve got no problem with that.”

The process will start on special teams and offense, where Cribbs took limited reps Wednesday, including running an end-around. Mangini said it’s up to each player to “carve out a niche.”

“I don’t ever look at it with limits or walls,” he said. “I look at it more as potential. The player defines how potentially big the role is.”

Cribbs doesn’t believe in limits, either.

“My niche is I don’t have a niche. It’s everywhere,” he said. “A lot of guys are calling me ‘E.’ It’s like everything, all of the above.”

Mangini is also intrigued by the idea of Cribbs at safety, but wants Cribbs to get acclimated to the new offense first. Cribbs was recruited by Syracuse and Maryland to play safety despite seeing limited action on defense in high school. He chose Kent State because he wanted to play quarter-back.

Nearly a decade later, defense sounds good.

“Can’t wait. Can’t wait,” he said. “It’s a lot of opportunities for me out there. They’re limitless for me at this point.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.