Should Josh Cribbs Remain with the Cleveland Browns in 2013?
Two years ago the thought of asking whether this electric playmaker should sign an extension would have seemed absurd.
Yet here we are, six games away from Cribbs becoming a free agent.
The Kent State alum is loved by the city and has always been enthusiastic about this football team.
However, facts are facts. As a kick/punt returner his production has dropped, nagging injuries keep creeping up, and he is rarely used on offense.
Cribbs is still feared on both sides of special teams and is the NFL's all-time leader in kickoffs returns for touchdowns with eight.
Holding records are nice, but as we know, this league is all about what you have done lately.
For No. 16, that doesn't add up to much on the scoresheet.
It is going on three years since he has returned a kick for six. Whether that is due to the league's rule changes for kickoffs, his supporting cast or various ailments, Cribbs is not delivering like he used to.
Should the Browns bring back Josh Cribbs in 2013?
Several coaching regimes have tried to capture Cribbs' versatility in a variety of ways.
Running the Wildcat and making him a go-to receiver have parts of these attempts to utilize the Washington, D.C., native outside of his core use on special teams.
No matter what the strategy, keeping Cribbs fresh for the return game was always a top priority.
With that main part of his skill set not converting into points, should the Browns bring him back in 2013?
-Cribs is the team's goodwill ambassador and most recognizable face, so it would be a fan-friendly move by the new ownership group to keep him around.
-As seen this season, when healthy Cribbs can still wreak havoc on special teams. He clearly is a highlight-reel-caliber athlete, as the Browns are second in the NFL in kick/punt-return average.
-If his teammates can cut down the penalties on those run backs, then he can continue to be an asset by giving a sputtering offense better starting field position.
-Excellent hands and yards after catch when trotted out as a wide receiver are notable strengths.
-Finishing second on the club last season with 41 receptions and hauling in four touchdowns, Cribbs has proven that he can be a difference-maker when asked to catch the football.
Maybe most importantly, the 6'1", 215-pound KR/WR wants to be in Cleveland.
Cribbs consistently lobbies to be a more integral part of the offense and is legitimately passionate about making this squad better.
He told Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer: "I feel like I'm caged...it's because of these fans I'm going to try and stay here."
Wanting the ball more is one thing, becoming a distraction is another.
In that same interview with The Plain Dealer, Cribbs vented his frustrations about not getting opportunities despite being more talented then some of his teammates. He also commented that head coach Pat Shurmur didn't know how to use him.
While I agree with No. 16 that his 2011 statistics warrant him more playing time, bringing further negativity to an already-disappointing campaign is not the answer.
-Sloppy route running has always been a problem for the undrafted college quarterback.
-Amassing a measly six receptions for 54 yards through the first 10 games is not getting him the amount of reps he needs to fix that weakness.
-Fumbling on special teams has become a startling regularity for the 29-year-old. In a contract year in which chances to showcase his abilities are already minimal, holding onto the pigskin becomes even a greater responsibility.
Ultimately, if Josh Cribbs is not going to be used in a significant way outside of special teams, then it is time to let him walk away. His having been only with the Browns, it would be nice for him to finish his career in Cleveland.
It is doubtful that the popular returner would consider a decrease from his current $15.49-million deal to stay in town.
Yes, the Browns rank third in the NFL in salary-cap space for next season. However, heading into 2013, Cribbs is simply not worth his hefty pay check to only run back the football.
Younger, cheaper options come along all the time that can be serviceable on returns.
On the other hand, if Cribbs can be incorporated as a No. 3 wide receiver in the slot, then his value to this young team goes up.
As discussed above, the speedy eight-year man does still provide game-changing ability. It will be up to the coaching staff whether or not to give Cribbs different ways to display it.
Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81
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