I was reading an article today on unsigned NFL free agents and was shocked to see Josh Cribbs on the list. Cribbs is 31, so no longer a young man, but he is a 3-time Pro Bowler who made it as recently as 2012. Cribbs holds the all-time record for kick return touchdowns with 8. He shares the record with Leon Washington, but Cribbs is also the only man in NFL history to return two kicks for 100+ yards in the same game. Cribbs is to kick returns as Devin Hester is to punts.
The Bears brought in Canadian import Chris Williams as a return specialist and he also holds a record for most punt return TDs in CFL history (6). Williams was a prolific punt returner, but only returned 12 kicks in his time in Canada and didn’t have much success (21 ypr). If Williams couldn’t beat out his Canadian team’s kick returner, I have a hunch that he isn’t going to beat out Ford, Spurlock, or whoever the Bears best kick returner in camp is. The Bears probably don’t have enough roster spots to keep separate specialists for kicks and punts, but both Williams and Cribbs could contribute as wide receivers. I covered Williams receiving skills already and Cribbs has proven he can be an offensive weapon as a change of pace RB, slot receiver, and wildcat QB. Cribbs had 8 offensive touchdowns over his last four years with the Browns (’09-’12).
After a contract dispute with the Browns, Cribbs ended up on the Jets last season but was limited to 6 games due to injuries (pectoral). In his time with the Jets last year, Cribbs averaged 12 yards per punt return (7th in NFL) and 24.5 per kick (12th). He also averaged 4.2 ypc, caught a few passes and completed a couple passes as their wildcat QB. He is a multi-purpose weapon who could be dangerous under Marc Trestman’s direction. Regardless of his impact on offense, if healthy Cribbs is a clear upgrade over the current kick returner candidates on the Bears roster.
Considering that he is still unsigned, I can’t imagine he would cost much more than the veteran minimum. Unless the Bears are sold on the kick return skills of someone already on the roster, I see no reason not to bring in one of the most prolific kick returners off all-time to see what he has left.