Done deal: Browns reward Cribbs with new three-year contract

Josh Cribbs found another kind of pay dirt.

Like some of his long, winding touchdown returns, the Pro Bowl player finally navigated his way to a new three-year contract from the Cleveland Browns on Friday, ending two seasons of threats, broken promises and back-and-forth negotiations.

With little choice but to reward their most popular player, the Browns paid Cribbs.

"I'm excited," Cribbs said, sitting alongside new team president Mike Holmgren at a hastily arranged news conference. "It's been a long road. It worked out. We reached a good compromise. I'm happy to wear this uniform proudly, as I've been saying the whole time."

Holmgren didn't talk specifics of the agreement, but the Browns restructured the final three years of Cribbs' old contract. NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the restructured deal is for $20 million, with $7 million guaranteed.

Cribbs, 26, had said earlier this week that he would make a "major" announcement at an auto show near the Browns' training facility. But just 45 minutes before Cribbs' appearance, the Browns sent out an advisory saying they would hold a news conference.

As a black sedan waited outside team headquarters to whisk him away, Cribbs, who at one point this offseason said he might have played his last game for the Browns, expressed relief that his contract was no longer an issue.

"I knew I wanted to be here," he said. "I feel like it was a necessary road that was traveled."

Holmgren acknowledged that it was unorthodox to renegotiate a contract with three years left.

"To ask with three years left is unusual," he said. "But in Josh's case, they had a good point. He had, in my opinion, outperformed his contract to a certain extent the more I studied it. I could say, 'No, we're not going to do it.' But that would be kind of silly. He had certainly earned the right to have a discussion at the very least. Then once we dove into it, someone's got to make the call, so I made the call."

Cribbs is the NFL's career leader with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns. Last season, he returned three kickoffs and one punt for a TD and became the first player in league history to amass 1,000 kickoff-return yards in each of his first five seasons.

Holmgren, who took over the Browns in January, inherited a sticky situation with Cribbs.

An undrafted free agent, Cribbs and his agents maintained that Cleveland's previous management teams had assured them that they would rework the player's contract. Cribbs had threatened to hold out in training camp and then again for the regular season, but he showed up and continued to play.

All along, Cribbs was seeking a deal comparable to the four-year, $40 million pact that Devin Hester signed with the Bears in 2008. That package included $15 million guaranteed.

As this past season dragged on, Browns fans sided with Cribbs, and some of them started a "Pay the Man" campaign. After the season ended and Cribbs was still without a new contract, he expressed his disgust by saying that he might be done in Cleveland, and he cleaned out his locker to show his displeasure.

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However, Holmgren stepped in and was able to patch up any differences that Cribbs and his representatives had with the Browns' front office, which has been completely overhauled.

Browns coach Eric Mangini said during the NFL Scouting Combine last weekend that he might expand Cribbs' role in Cleveland's offense next season. Cribbs played some wide receiver and lined up in the shotgun. Mangini even said he isn't opposed to Cribbs playing some defense.

Cribbs isn't the first Browns player to say promises weren't fulfilled by the team's front office. Holmgren can appreciate their frustration, but he can't fix every situation.

"We'll get to each case as best we can, be as fair as we can, but we are going to maintain certain principles when we deal with these things," he said. "I trust we'll be here for a while, so how we do things will eventually be figured out and maybe we can head off some of these things at the pass. All I can say is, 'I'm sorry' if these promises were made. I will hold to my promises."

Notes: Holmgren said the Browns are looking for a quarterback in free agency, but he wouldn't get into any specifics. ... The Browns have scheduled a visit with LB Scott Fujita, an unrestricted free agent who played for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints last season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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