Longtime Cleveland Browns wide receiver and dynamic returner Josh Cribbs is hitting the free-agent market this offseason, and several NFL franchises are reportedly interested in the 29-year-old's services.
According to a report by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, five teams are coveting Cribbs—the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals.
The first three teams on that list have combined for three conference championship and Super Bowl appearances in the past two seasons. Cribbs never made the playoffs in his eight years in Cleveland, and that type of change in scenery could very well reignite his career.
A significantly diminished role as a receiver frustrated Cribbs in 2012, and he felt "caged," to use his own words (per Cleveland.com). He will likely pine for a destination that gives him more opportunities in that dimension of the game.
Here is a breakdown of the best fits for Cribbs to be productive as a playmaker on special teams and offense in 2013.
3. Dallas Cowboys
With Kevin Ogletree not expected back in all likelihood, the Cowboys are in the market for a wide receiver. While Cribbs may not be the most outstanding option on the market, he is definitely worth a shot.
It would be very interesting to see Cribbs line up alongside the likes of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin in the slot. The great thing about Cribbs is that he is versatile enough to play inside or out, and has underrated size and strength at 6'1" and 215 pounds.
Not to mention, having a quarterback like Tony Romo is a massive upgrade over anyone Cribbs played with in Cleveland. Incessantly productive tight end Jason Witten would also deflect attention and should continue to be his typical dominant self.
Although it may be difficult to post big numbers in an offense featuring such dynamic weapons, there is no question that Cribbs would see more snaps.
Considering how dangerous he can be as a runner in the Wildcat or otherwise, Jason Garrett's offense would have an opportunity to give Cribbs carries. That could help improve last year's second-worst rushing attack immensely.
Dallas also averaged just 20.6 yards per kick return, which shows that the Cowboys need help in that regard as well. Cribbs would be the instant No. 1 returner on both kicks and punts over Dwayne Harris, and a good candidate to start on the outside at receiver.
2. New England Patriots
Deion Branch is no longer the playmaker he once was for the Pats and is unlikely to be a contributor moving forward. Cabot reports that Julian Edelman is ironically drawing interest from the Browns.
Even stranger, both Cribbs and Edelman played quarterback at Kent State University, then switched to similar roles in the pros.
What better way to see how well Cribbs can truly play receiver than catching passes from living legend Tom Brady on Sundays?
There should be plenty of chances for Cribbs. Due to so-called "erratic" behavior, Brandon Lloyd—the team's second-leading receiver in 2012—is not expected back, either. That leaves New England suddenly very thin in the receiving corps.
As mentioned before, it is worth giving Cribbs a shot even on the outside, but it will require the Patriots to add another receiver to potentially team with Cribbs and Wes Welker in the slot.
Getting Welker out of harm's way on special teams would also be great, since he's already routinely catching 100-plus balls. Edelman was the only other option, so Cribbs would easily provide an upgrade there.
The genius of Josh McDaniels—who again dialed up plays for the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this past year—would undoubtedly find creative ways to get Cribbs the ball.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez present matchup nightmares at tight end, and Cribbs should draw plenty of single coverage in New England. It would just be a matter of picking up on the Pats' complex offense.
1. San Francisco 49ers
The Niners also recently cut loose future Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
A.J. Jenkins was a first-round pick last year, but hasn't seen much of the field yet. Outside of him, the only undoubted standout receiver on San Francisco's roster is Michael Crabtree.
And check out this connection, as brilliantly pointed out by Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Eric Branch @Eric_Branch
FYI: #49ers Vernon Davis and #Browns FA Josh Cribbs were teammates at Dunbar High in Washington D.C.3/10/2013, 3:12:08 AM
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman boast one of the most unique offenses in the NFL. The added flexibility provided by QB Colin Kaepernick's ridiculous athleticism has only increased the possibilities.
The addition of Cribbs would only make opposing defenses sweat even more. All other teams interested in him besides the Niners' NFC West rival Arizona—who don't have a surefire franchise quarterback—would require Cribbs to play on the outside.
In 2011, Cribbs did that effectively for the Browns, catching 41 passes for 518 yards and four touchdowns from Colt McCoy.
That said, playing in such an innovative scheme in the slot could make the Niners unstoppable. For the past two seasons, Cribbs has been in a version of the West Coast offense, so he should be able to grasp some of the concepts well from the start if he lands in San Francisco.
Cribbs is also bigger and stronger than Ted Ginn, who has been all but completely fazed out of the offense. Ginn may be faster, but Cribbs is the more productive returner.
Given Cribbs' aforementioned quarterbacking background, it's hilarious to imagine double passes between him and Kaepernick and all the chaos that would occur on any kind of gadget plays involving those two.
Whether it's a jet sweep, a direct snap, a bubble screen, a crossing route or even lining up alongside Kaepernick and a running back in the backfield, the possibilities seem rather endless.
Plus, it's almost guaranteed that San Francisco will make another serious run at the Super Bowl this coming season. That, along with all the dimensions he could add to the offense and obvious enhancement to the return game, will make the 49ers the best bet for Cribbs' future.
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