The 49ers are in desperate need of a return man. Joshua Cribbs is the best in the business and is unhappy - very unhappy - with his situation with the Cleveland Browns. Cribbs, who still has three years remaining on his deal, felt low-balled by the Browns' latest offer to restructure it. Cribbs told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer it felt like he'd been "betrayed and stabbed in the back." He's already begun saying his goodbyes at the Browns facility. He wants a trade.
The question is if the Browns acquiesce, should the 49ers leap to the front of the line? Of course, everything will hinge on what the Browns want in return and the 49ers couldn't even contemplate a trade until March. But there are other factors to weigh:
1. He would instantly improve what was one of the worst return units in the league. The 49ers ranked last in punt-return average this season and 23rd in kickoffs. Their kickoff average only improved after Josh Morgan, a potential starting receiver the 49ers would rather not have returning kicks, took over the job late in the season. This is a big priority for Mike Singletary. Heck, problems in the return game were why he declined to renew special teams coordinator Al Everest's contract.
2. How long can Cribbs keep up his pace? The longevity for return men is not that good. (See: Hall, Dante; Hester, Devin). Indeed, this is why the Browns have been reluctant to reward Cribbs - he'll be 27 in June - with a big contract. The fear is that as soon as he gets his big pay day, his skills will diminish. If the 49ers traded for Cribbs, they'd have to sign him to the deal he is seeking with the Browns.
3. This is a particularly good draft for return men. There were two standouts - Javier Arenas and Jordan Shipley - in last night's championship game. Arenas, a cornerback, also had two interceptions. Would the 49ers fork over a draft pick that could be used to acquire the next Joshua Cribbs, and at a much lower cost?
4. Cribbs is a proven commodity. The 49ers have drafted two potential return men in recent years - Brandon Williams and Rasheed Marshall and neither worked out. Moreover, Cribbs is a favorite inside the locker room and among the fan base. He's a popular guy and a leader. He also attended the same high school as Vernon Davis, whose contract, by the way, expires after next season.
Speaking of Davis, the guy's magical year keeps getting better. Davis was named an honorary captain of the U.S. Curling team and will go to Vancouver next month for the Olympics. Davis, who at this time last year was considered a bust in some circles, has had a year that goes like this: 1. Named a team captain. 2. Given highest team award by teammates. 3. Named a starter in the Pro Bowl. 4. Tied NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end. 5. Goes to Olympics.
One honor Davis may not be proud of: drops. According to STATS LLC, Davis finished tied for first in the NFL in drops. Only Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe had as many. Michael "What drops?" Crabtree also finished in the Top 16 in drops this year.
I used to do a Saturday Q & A. Let's resurrect it Twitter-style. Tweet me your questions @mattBarrows and I'll respond in this space. I know you're limited in terms of characters, but try to include your first name and city and state ... i.e., Matt, San Jose, Ca.
-- Matt Barrows