Five months in, it turns out Cleveland's on-field performance is the least of his concerns.
Mandatory training camps haven't even begun yet, but Mangini has already had to deal with a couple of angry players, most recently kick return specialist Josh Cribbs.
Cribbs, who signed a six-year, $6.7 million extension in 2006, feels he's earned much more than his contract is paying him and intends to boycott voluntary practices until "meaningful dialogue" begins between the Browns and his agent.
This isn't the first fire the new Browns coach has had to put out since he joined the team in January.
Merely one month into his Cleveland tenure, Eric Mangini had to deal with angry nose tackle Shaun Rogers. Rogers, one of the few Browns players last season who was actually worth watching, became disgruntled with Mangini when his new coach snubbed him at a local awards banquet, and again at the team's practice facility.
The final straw was apparently pulled when the new regime gave Rogers a notice claiming he had to arrive to training camp at a prescribed weight.
Upon hearing this, Rogers almost immediately put the word out that he wanted the Browns to release him. The early reports indicated there wasn't a thing Cleveland's front office could do to change his mind, leaving many fans fearing that the Browns already anemic defense was about to lose its most talented player.
Enter Eric Mangini.
While Shaun Rogers huffed and puffed through his "sources," Mangini handled the situation in his own way—behind closed doors. Many thought the train had derailed when Rogers was reported as a no-show at the team's voluntary workout program in March.
Then, out of nowhere, raw video was released showing Rogers at the Browns training complex in Berea, OH, hugging teammates and looking uncharacteristically happy. Nobody knew what happened, how it happened, or when it happened, but somewhere between Rogers' angry outbursts and his arrival to the workout program, Mangini calmed the big man down.
In fact, Shaun Rogers recently claimed all was well between him and his coach.
At an Akron awards banquet, Rogers stated he and Mangini spoke about the issue in person and handled it appropriately. The potentially ugly situation is apparently history at this point, and Rogers claims he's ready to go to work.
So, with the Shaun Rogers dispute handled, Mangini's role as peacemaker will be required once again with Josh Cribbs. His work is definitely cut out for him, as the Cribbs commotion is certainly a bit more complicated.
As it was with Rogers, Cribbs is certainly a player the Browns cannot afford to lose. Also like Rogers, Cribbs seems very adamant about getting what he wants, as he too is threatening to leave if demands aren't met.
The big difference with Cribbs' situation is that there's a contract involved.
While personal issues and miscommunications can be handled simply by meeting one-on-one with the disgruntled player, the solutions for a contract dispute are much more black and white. The player will get the money he wants, or the team ends up losing one of its core members. Either way, someone has to break.
Word came out of Browns camp stating Mangini met with Josh Cribbs today at a full squad meeting. Mangini would not disclose what was said between him and Cribbs, but it's nice to hear he spoke with his disgruntled special teams star, as his fence-mending skills will have to be pushed to the limit in this case.
Cribbs knows Mangini intends to use him in a wide array of positions, including nickel and dime defenses. Mangini has also told local media how excited he was to have a player like Cribbs on his team. Because of this, Cribbs has an edge on the front office, as he knows how important he is to the Browns, especially since they've told him this.
Also, Cribbs won't be backing down in this debate, since he's taking it personally. He claims Browns owner Randy Lerner promised him a contract renegotiation this offseason, while the team released a statement saying nobody, including Lerner, has made any promises to anyone on the Browns. Cribbs has taken offense to the team basically calling him a liar, and will no doubt use this as motivation to keep fighting for what he feels he deserves.
So while Mangini will undoubtedly attempt to calm this storm the way he did with Rogers, he should know this conflict won't end as easily. He and GM George Kokinis will most likely have to do some sort of renegotiation with Cribbs' contract, regardless of trying to avoid salary cap trouble.
Even though doing this will result in the front office giving in a bit, the fact of the matter is Josh Cribbs is a great player to have on your team. He may not be putting himself in the best light through this holdout, but Cleveland fans know he'll do what's asked of him on Sundays.
At this point, its Eric Mangini's job to play mediator again, as he is now responsible for making sure both sides end up happy. He's done it before, so here's hoping he can do it again.
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