For the last six years, the most exciting player for the Cleveland Browns was an undrafted free agent out of Kent State named Joshua Cribbs, a dynamic playmaker in college who rewrote the record books for the Golden Flashes.
From the quarterback position, he amassed an astonishing 10,839 total yards, 38 rushing touchdowns, 41 total touchdowns and 246 points scored, all school records.
Entering his first training camp in 2005, Cribbs, like every other undrafted rookie, was considered a long shot to make the team. His hard work and physical gifts won him a roster spot, and the rest as they say is history.
Entering 2005 the kick return duties were his to lose. Speed and passion propelled the former Kent State star to a franchise record 1,094 return yards, including a Week 7 touchdown against Detroit. Over the next five years, Cribbs went from being the local underdog trying to make the team to the face of the franchise.
After a record-shattering year in 2009 that saw him go for 1,542 return yards and three touchdowns, Josh wanted to get paid. He launched a campaign to get a contract extension and was willing to talk to anyone who would listen. Fan sentiment was behind him and his stock was at an all-time high.
In addition to his contribution on special teams, Josh seemed to find a role on offense in the Wildcat formation. With 381 rushing yards on 55 carries, including a one-man domination of the hated Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the time seemed right to reward Cribbs for his achievements.
In March of 2010, Josh signed a three-year deal, worth up to $20 million, making him the highest-paid special teamer in the league. What followed was by far statistically the worst year of his career. While he did show improvement as a wide receiver, it was not enough to make a difference on game day.
What made Josh such a valuable member of the team were his kick-return abilities. The yard-per-return average was 27.5 in 2009 but dropped off to 20.4 in 2010, which also marked the first year that Cribbs failed to reach the end zone as a returner. The drop off was evident when Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden filled in at times and showed a burst that had been missing all season.
Beyond the special teams play was his ineffectiveness as a runner. The Wildcat formation became all the rage in 2008 when the Miami Dolphins featured Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The Browns adapted the Wildcat in an effort to get Cribbs more involved.
After his peak in 2009, Josh didn’t do much in 2010 as he carried the ball for only 66 yards. NFL defenses have caught onto the scheme, and Cribbs isn’t fooling anybody when he lines up in the backfield.
He did have some injury problems that contributed to his down numbers in 2010. The problem with using that as an excuse is that when the next season kicks off, he will be 28 years old. Which is old by NFL standards.
The thing that makes Cribbs great is his fearlessness and energy. Those are also the things that can lead to the end of a career.
At his age, with the hits that he takes, it would not surprise me if he does not see the special-team end zone again. I think he’s too old to take the hits, too slow to avoid them and too financially stable to go above and beyond.
Josh Cribbs has done amazing things for the city of Cleveland, but at the rate he is going, an honest evaluation is necessary. If Cribbs has a bounce-back year, nobody would be happier than this writer, but I just wouldn’t count on it.