CLEVELAND: Four Browns players made appearances at the Cleveland Auto Show at the I-X Center Thursday night, but it could be the last time fans have a chance to see one of them.
Wide receiver and kick returner Josh Cribbs is set to become a free agent March 12, and his status under the new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam III, CEO Joe Banner, Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski is unknown.
Cribbs spoke to reporters before signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans for about two hours, along with cornerback Joe Haden and defensive linemen Billy Winn and John Hughes.
Cribbs reiterated his intentions to remain with the Browns, but he seems to think these could be his last days in Cleveland.
“I want to play for the Browns,” Cribbs said. “I don’t want to play for another team. That whole process [stinks]. At the same time, I’m not optimistic that things are going in my favor as far as staying with the team. That’s just my take on things. A whole new regime coming in, me having to prove myself to this new regime off of the year that I didn’t really play any offense. It’s all about productivity and looking at that, the productivity in the offense, special teams was average. It doesn’t look good for me in their eyes.
“It’s a business, unfortunately. As much as I love the fans of Cleveland and the community, football is a business, and unfortunately there comes a time that we must part ways. Hopefully it happens at the end of my career but time will tell.”
Cribbs says he’s received a lot of support the past few weeks from fans reaching out to him.
“I run into fans every day, at the gas station, [during] my daily duties,” he said. “There’s been a lot of support from fans and Cleveland. That’s one reason why I love playing here. It’s hard, this process right here is hard, just waiting.”
Cribbs’ booth had a different feel for the dozens in line, one of possibly seeing a fan favorite for the last time. Several gave a knowing nod that with the new management in town, Cribbs’ days could be numbered. Others pointed to the NFL rule change that moved kickoffs up 10 yards, diminishing the effect return specialists can have on the game, as a reason he might not return.
“They put that new rule in with the kickoffs so it’s kind of tough for a good returner like him, but hopefully he still re-signs before the season starts,” said Jarren Russell, of Atwater. “I’ve been following him from Kent State. If he’s chasing money that’s one thing, but hopefully he’s still here.”
Justin Proctor, of Medina, brought his 16-year-old son, Christian, for an autograph. Christian doesn’t think the Browns have allowed Cribbs to expand his role as a receiver, and welcomes a possible location change.
“I’d be pretty happy for him, having an opportunity to grow as a receiver than just a kickoff guy,” he said. “I’d like to see him grow.”
Russell brought other things to sign, leaving his already-autographed Cribbs jersey at home. Of the many jerseys he owns, a few of the players are no longer on the team. “That’s just how things go,” he said.
Haden likes Horton
After Ray Horton was announced as the new Browns defensive coordinator, Haden took to Twitter, obviously excited with the hire and the energy Horton has brought to his defenses. On Thursday night, he relayed that message.
Haden says he met with Chudzinski and Lombardi in a meet-and-greet Thursday (players can talk with coaches during this time but cannot speak about X’s and O’s). He also ran into Horton at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and was impressed.
“He’s a high-energy guy,” Haden said. “He was just cool. I love the way that he approaches the game. I got to talking with [Cardinals cornerback] Pat Peterson, he really likes him and he said the scheme is good, they attack a lot. A lot of it’s on timing, so you get to jump a lot more routes. The front seven is going to get there, so it’s easier to make plays in the back end, so I like that a whole lot.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.