BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs was met inside the door of Cleveland’s training facility by a smiling security director, an unsigned letter from the team — and awkwardness.
“I walked in and it felt like the building was still closed,” Cribbs said Tuesday.
Supposedly lifted, the NFL lockout has only grown more confusing.
One day after a judge at least temporarily ended the league’s 45-day labor strife, Cribbs, tight end Ben Watson and punter Reggie Hodges returned to team headquarters, hoping to work out and return to some semblance of normalcy after weeks of following court proceedings from afar.
The trio arrived shortly before 10 a.m., and was greeted at the door by Lew Merletti, head of Browns’ security and former Secret Service director under President Clinton. Less than an hour later, the players left with some unanswered questions and feeling disappointed.
During their stay, the were allowed to visit the weight room and locker room. However, they were prevented from meeting with coaches or getting playbooks.
“It was strange and awkward,” Cribbs said of returning to his work place only to find empty hallways and little activity inside a normally bustling building. “It was kind of awkward because we really don’t talk to our security staff unless there is a security issue.
“So, the security issue is us.”
Cribbs said Merletti gave the players letters from the Browns urging them to be patient, and outlining the rules they needed to follow inside team headquarters. The players were not allowed in the upstairs offices or to have any personal contact with new coach Pat Shurmur, his staff or other employees.
Even then, there was ambiguity in the message.
While Cribbs didn’t think the Browns could work out, Watson was under the impression the players could have lifted weights if they had chosen to. Watson was asked if he touched the weights.
“Yeah, they didn’t shock me,” Watson said, laughing as he talked to reporters from behind the wheel of his Range Rover. “We just wanted to come in and get familiar with being there and we would be allowed to work out. But there was no structure for us.”
Cribbs said the players were trying to prove a point by reporting only hours after the judge’s ruling.
“We’re basically showing that we want to work,” he said. “We’re basically showing that we’re at work as scheduled. We want to get back at football. We want to continue to play football and we’re eager to get back on the field. We’re showing that when the lockout is over, we’re gonna be here like we’re supposed to at work and to get a job done. That’s what coming today proves.”
Watson said the players walked around, briefly visited the locker room and spent a few minutes talking with security personnel.
After they left the building, Cribbs, Watson and Hodges huddled together on the sidewalk entrance before heading to their cars. Watson arrived with Hodges as his front-seat passenger while Cribbs drove alone.
All three said it’s been frustrating not to be able to meet with Shurmur, who was hired in January after Eric Mangini was fired after his second 5-11 season. The Browns are eager to dig into Shurmur’s playbook so they can learn a new West Coast offense and a 4-3 defensive alignment.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Cribbs said.
“We would like to get with the coaches, to get with them because we have a lot to work on and a lot to catch up on,” Watson said. “But the coaches can’t do what they’re not allowed to do and for whatever reason at this point they are not able to meet with us.
“Hopefully, we will able to soon and it will be business as usual.”
The league promised players would be “treated with courtesy and respect” if they showed up at their team’s facilities. Watson said Merletti was polite and professional.
“He was all smiles. We were all smiles. It wasn’t a confrontational thing,” he said. “That’s not what this is. It wasn’t a ‘Watch what you guys are doing.’ Nothing like that. He was just there to welcome us and say that the team and organization is working through some things as far as when they’ll start contact with us, how stuff will start up and when it will start up.”
Watson remains optimistic the sides will eventually finalize a collective bargaining agreement. He’s not sure if the judge’s most recent ruling has moved things closer to a resolution.
“We’re obviously closer to the end because we have to be,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean the end is going to be close, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Before pulling away, Watson was asked if he planned to come back on Wednesday.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just wanted to come for one day to see how it goes and see what happens. Stuff changes every five or 10 minutes.”