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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 23: Josh Cribbs #16 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 23, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Browns 34-12. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Just as it is on the football field, there is a crowd chasing Josh Cribbs.
The 49ers, Giants, Cowboys, Cardinals and Patriots all are reported interested in landing the veteran returner and receiver who has had some special seasons for the Browns in his eight NFL seasons.
Cribbs, 29, is now a free agent and is a proven playmaker. This past season, Cribbs was among the top 10 returners in the league for both punts and kickoffs, and twice has been selected to the Pro Bowl.
Over his career Cribbs has returned three punts for TDs and eight kickoffs for scores.
The 49ers have been reported to be in the hunt for Cribbs, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but with the other suitors it may be tough for the 49ers to land the dynamic Cribbs, who not only would be a terrific replacement for Ted Ginn Jr. -- now departed in free agency -- but could also provide depth a wide receiver.
Just two seasons ago with the Browns, Cribbs had 41 catches for 518 yards and four TDs.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle notes, however, that the 49ers may have an inside track in the Cribbs chase based on the fact Cribbs played for 49ers special teams coach Brad Seely in Cleveland, and greatly admires his former Browns coach.
Branch reports that before the Browns met the 49ers in 2011, Cribbs referred to Seely as a “great coach,” and praised his attention to detail.
According to the Plain Dealer, Cribbs had hoped to remain in Ohio, where he played college football at Kent State. But now that the Browns have shown they aren’t interested in retaining him, he’d prefer to go to a team that will use him both as a receiver and returner. The 49ers would seem to fit that description, having a thin corps at the position right now -- with the departure of Randy Moss and Ginn.
Cribbs, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, is a former college quarterback who also has been used by the Browns to run the ball and throw occasional passes. He would likely be an interesting option to add into the versatile offensive of coordinator Greg Roman.
Teams may begin to sign free agents -- and make trades -- beginning Tuesday. The Plain Dealer reports Cribbs is likely to be a quick sign by one of his five pursuers.