Cribbs, Browns in tricky dispute

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Former Pro Bowl kick returner Joshua Cribbs outperformed his contract and said the team promised to renegotiate his deal.

The Cleveland Browns have new leadership that didn't make any promises and does not feel the need to honor promises by the old regime.

Are both sides correct?

The Cribbs-Browns contract debate is a tricky one that sometimes happens in the NFL. A player is unhappy, the team promises to take care of that player down the road, then the old front office is fired and everything falls by the wayside.

Cribbs and his representatives say the team agreed in good faith to rework his deal if Cribbs quietly played out the 2008 season, which Cribbs did. Cleveland, on the other hand, sent a release Monday stating "no one from the current Browns organization, including owner Randy Lerner, has made any promises to Josh Cribbs with regard to his contract status."

The keyword in that statement is "current."

It doesn't mean Cribbs didn't receive someone's word. It just means the people who likely gave Cribbs their word are no longer employed in Cleveland.

Cribbs is reportedly scheduled to earn $645,000 this year. Other return specialists (Devin Hester and Roscoe Parrish) make much more. Yet new coach Eric Mangini and first-year general manager George Kokinis would like to keep Cribbs at a bargain rate.

Is it Kokinis' responsibility to uphold something former general manager Phil Savage may have said last summer? That's a tough question with many layers.

For now, Cleveland's offseason program is voluntary. So you're probably not going to see either side bend in the coming weeks. But, at some point, one side may have to do something they're uncomfortable with, whether it's playing through an empty promise or agreeing to fulfill someone else's statement.