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Cribbs scores with new three-year deal from Cleveland

BEREA — 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.

“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.”

The Browns restructured the final three years of the six-year, $6.67 million deal Cribbs signed in 2006. He will receive $7.5 million in guaranteed money, and if he reaches incentives, the 26-year-old could make as much as $20 million, according to reports.

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.

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 years 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.