I have a sister in mourning over the impending departure of Josh Cribbs. It stinks to ever have to say goodbye to players that you love as a fan of a team. Even as much as people tend to dislike Ray Lewis outside of Baltimore, there’s no denying that his career there couldn’t have ended more perfectly for his fans. Those situations aren’t the norm and certainly not with the history of the Cleveland Browns since Josh Cribbs has been in Cleveland. I will argue that this Cleveland Browns ending with Josh Cribbs is perfect enough though.
The heart and head aren’t usually aligned when fans think about NFL players. It is a brutal sport dominated mostly by young people who have yet to put themselves through the numerous car crashes it takes to endure an NFL season. That punishment and ability to withstand it is part of the mystique of NFL players that fans end up gravitating toward.
Few have played the game under those conditions with as much passion and zeal as Josh Cribbs. The fact is that it is precisely and obviously why a universe of Browns fans loves Cribbs. Yet it’s also obvious to most that the best thing for the team they love and their future is to continue to get younger and plan for a future beyond the presumed expiration date of Josh Cribbs’ next contract.
I’ve fielded the questions already.
Won’t Cribbs continue to contribute to whatever NFL team he plays for?
I believe so, yes.
Then why can’t he just continue to play in Cleveland and do that here?
There’s no easy answer to that question. It’s better answered in terms of the cold-hearted world of betting. Josh Cribbs is going to turn 30 this year and might be absolutely fine as a returner and special teams ace for the next two to three years. There’s a chance he will be better than anyone the Browns use to replace him. The fact remains that in the NFL, betting on a guy who plays a high risk / high injury-rate position like Josh Cribbs, you’re on borrowed time as he approaches 30. No matter how much you love Josh Cribbs, when it comes to facts that live in the head and trying to ignore all the highlights that live in our hearts, he’s no longer a good bet for a business-focused organization.
Assuming the next returner for the Browns could be Travis Benjamin, it just makes sense. Travis Benjamin is 23 years-old. He is a budding talent at wide receiver at least situationally. Most importantly, he’s locked into a deal that will give him a cap number right around $600,000 for 2013. I definitely don’t envision Travis Benjamin making special teams tackles, but that’s usually reserved for up and coming corner-backs linebackers and safeties with similarly small cap numbers. The Browns will be able to let three or four guys line up and play in their younger years with the same money that Cribbs would require all by himself.
The point is just that at this stage of his career, the efficiency of paying Josh Cribbs the money he’s worth and what he’s earned isn’t worthwhile to the Browns. In their current situation, to pay Cribbs a couple million per year to fight through his age, take a chance that he’ll stay healthy and also block the development of the next round of Browns starters from cutting their teeth in special teams isn’t all that worthwhile. Yes, they can afford it, but that doesn’t mean they should afford it.
So like many Browns fans, I am sad at Josh Cribbs’ departure. I wish him well and hope he finds a deal commensurate with his abilities and what he brings to a community as a person. This gives him a chance to say goodbye (for now) and let everyone know how he feels about the rabid community of supporters that has cheered him on. The fan base also gets the chance to thank him for his contributions and wish him well, and really truly mean it.
Would it have been nice to do this as a retirement party with every game played in his career as a Cleveland Brown? Maybe. Then again, there’s a chance that it could have gone south. Probably not, but you never know. Short of a Ray Lewis departure after winning a Super Bowl, I think this is a pretty decent “high note” for everyone to go out on.
So fare thee well, Josh Cribbs. Please come back and retire here as a Cleveland Brown on a one day contract whenever it is you decide you’re finished. Maybe there’ll be a spot for you in the Ring of Honor too. If I had a vote, I’d include you someday.