Browns to restructure Cribbs' deal

BEREA, Ohio -- Josh Cribbs found another kind of pay dirt.

Like some of his long, winding touchdown returns, the Pro Bowler finally navigated his way to a new three-year contract on Friday from the Cleveland Browns, 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.

The Browns redid the final three years of Cribbs' deal and will pay him a maximum of $18.5 million over that span. Included in the deal are guarantees worth $7 million, a source told ESPN.com's John Clayton.

"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."

Cribbs 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 be holding a press conference.

As a black sedan waited outside team headquarters to whisk him away, Cribbs, who at one point said he may 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 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 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 one 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 he may be done in Cleveland and cleaned out his locker to show his displeasure.

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

Browns coach Eric Mangini said during the recent NFL scouting combine that he may expand Cribbs' role in Cleveland's offense next season. Cribbs played some wide receiver and lined up in the shotgun. Mangini even said he is not opposed to Cribbs playing some defense.

Cribbs isn't the first Browns player to say promises were not fulfilled by the club's front office. Holmgren can appreciate their frustration but 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."


Holmgren said the Browns are looking for a quarterback in free agency but would not get into any specifics. ... The Browns have scheduled a visit with New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, an unrestricted free agent.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.