Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Sunday’s Pro Bowl in Hawaii could mark the end of an era for a pair of Browns.
The contracts for kicker Phil Dawson and returner Josh Cribbs’ are up and they are both set to become unrestricted free agents on March 12 so it could be Aloha for one or both.
Dawson is the only remaining Brown from the 1999 expansion team while Cribbs epitomizes Cleveland’s blue collar fanbase. But despite their popularity among fans, with yet another regime change in Berea, anything is possible.
“The coaches and Michael [Lombardi] will make that call,” owner Jimmy Haslam said Thursday night at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. “You have to remember we have a completely new set of individuals. Chud’s been here, what 10 days now? And really they’ve been focused on hiring a staff, which is what we want them to focus on. They’ve just now started looking at our team. So those decisions will be made over the next few weeks.”
Head coach Rob Chudzinski, who has been busy assembling a new coaching staff, hasn’t even thought about the futures of either Dawson or Cribbs.
“We haven’t even gotten to that point. Again, the coaching staff is what I’m focusing on,” Chudzinski said Thursday night. “We’re getting all our guys in. We’re going to go through and evaluate our players. That’ll be the first thing we do in the next couple of weeks and kind of put together what we want our players to be so we can get into free agency and get into the draft.”
In the short time since taking over the team, Haslam has grown to appreciate what both Dawson and Cribbs mean to the Browns and fans.
Dawson has ascended the team’s record books but has spent the last 2 years in limbo after being ‘franchised’ in lieu of a new long-term contract.
With 116 points in 2012, he extended his team-record to six 100-point seasons in his career. He’s made more field goals and has the best field goal percentage than any other kicker in franchise history. He is 2nd on the all time franchise list in career points and 3rd in games played.
It took 14 years for Dawson, who has the 7th highest field goal percentage in NFL history but the highest (84.0 percent) among the 25 kickers with 300 or more attempts, to make the Pro Bowl.
This past season he led the AFC by making 29 of 31 attempts including a perfect 7 for 7 from beyond 50 yards. He also set a career-high with 30 touchbacks, surpassing his previous best of 12 in 2008.
“Phil’s a great player and a great person,” Haslam said. “That’s the kind of people we want here in Cleveland, people who are great on and off the field, and Phil’s that kind of guy. No doubt about it.”
Cribbs, who completes a 3-year $18 million contract signed in 2010, makes his 3rd Pro Bowl appearance since being signed by the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2005.
He finished 4th in the NFL this year in kickoff return average (27.4) and 6tth in punt return average (12.0). He also added 9 special teams tackles.
Cribbs also became just the 6th player in league history to total 12,000 or more career kick and punt return yards. He’s 5th in kickoff return yards with 10,015 as well as total returns for touchdowns (11). He is tied with Leon Washington for the most kickoff returns for TDs (8).
“I don’t know if there’s a tougher player in the NFL than Cribbsy,” Haslam said. “Just like everybody else, we’ll have to take a look at where Josh is and where he fits into our plans. But we certainly appreciate the unbelievable effort and job that he’s done. And we’re really happy that he got to go to the Pro Bowl. He really deserves that. He’s a quality guy. He works his tail off.
“I don’t anybody that’s ever played the game that’s been as good at returning and covering kicks as Cribbsy is. He’s a great player, a great athlete and as tough as they come.”
New CEO Joe Banner has a reputation for being a tough negotiator which makes the probability that one or both could be gone in 2013 a pretty good bet.
“They’ve obviously had success,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll just have to wait and see and see how everything fits together on that.”
Hopefully the Browns’ new regime will find a way for both to fit into their plans.