Cribbs says Browns told him they want new deal by end of season

BEREA, Ohio -- Josh Cribbs hopes his patience will finally pay off in a big way.

Cribbs had expressed optimism this week that he would receive a new contract from the Cleveland Browns. On Thursday, Cribbs told The Associated Press why he was encouraged: He said the Browns told him during their bye week that they want to have a new contract in place by the end of the season, ending what has been a sticky negotiation since training camp.

"They told me they wanted to do something before the year was over," Cribbs said. "Coach (Eric) Mangini has been optimistic about it as well. He's told me directly I deserve a new contract and he would work to get it done."

Cribbs wouldn't say specifically who told him the deal could be finalized by the end of the season, only that it happened while the Browns were off the weekend of Nov. 8.

In their first game following the open week, Cribbs was carted off the field on a stretcher following the final play of the team's loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. He then said that the entire situation increased his urgency to get a new deal done.

Cribbs has three years left on his existing deal, which pays him $6.77 million over six years, but he believes he merits a raise now. By far the most dynamic player on the Browns' roster, Cribbs has blossomed into an integral part of the offense after building a reputation as a special-teams star in his first four NFL seasons.

"We're positive. We're upbeat," Cribbs' agent, J.R. Rickert, said. "I'm confident both sides will put forth the best effort they can to get something done."

Rickert believes it's in the Browns' best interest to do something before the season ends, so any signing bonus can be added to Cribbs' salary this year and count against the 2009 salary cap. The Browns are believed to be well under the cap.

If a new labor agreement cannot be reached and there is no salary cap next season, that won't matter. But Rickert still believes negotiations are heading in the right direction after the two sides experienced contentious moments over the last six months.

"I believe the situation can be worked out," Rickert said.

Mangini again declined Thursday to offer a timeline for a new deal to be completed, but he reiterated his admiration for a player who's quickly becoming the team's MVP.

"I really like Josh," Mangini said. "I really do, not just as a player, but as a person, as a part of the organization, his dedication, his sacrifice. He is selfless."

Cribbs began voicing his displeasure with his contract over the summer, when he sat out voluntary minicamps. But he reported to training camp on time and has done all that has been asked of him by the new Browns' coaching staff.

Still talking, but no deal yet

Mike Holmgren and the Browns haven't discussed

a salary, a team spokesman said Thursday, but the sides plan to meet again in the coming days.

"I'm very happy with the way I handled it," Cribbs said. "I kept my head down and just kept playing."

Negotiations could be slowed again by the Browns' search for a new head of football operations.

The team brought in Mike Holmgren this week, but he left town without a new contract. Cribbs believes he already has been burned once by a regime change. Cribbs has maintained that he was promised by owner Randy Lerner after last season he would receive a new deal, but that changed when former general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel were fired and Mangini was hired.

With talk of a restructured football operation again bubbling up, Cribbs acknowledged that he's concerned he'll have to start all over again.

"How many more times do I have to prove myself?" he asked.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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