The Browns have been back since 1999. In the “new era” there has been just one player who has been here from the beginning; Kicker Phil Dawson. He came in as an un-drafted rookie out of the University of Texas. All he has done since he arrived in town has been the rock of the franchise. I would argue that he has been the most successful player of the new era. Other than maybe Joe Thomas, I defy you to find me a player on this team who has done his job better than #4. Throw in the longevity and the fact that his game hasn’t slipped one bit and has only gotten better over the years, and you’ve got someone that Browns fans have to love and appreciate.
Fans here have an affinity for the soon to be 37-year old kicker. Year after year, kick after kick, the guy has come through. His three for three performance in a blizzard in the 2007 win over the Bills as the Browns were driving towards a 10-6 record was the greatest kicking performance in Browns history. Lou “The Toe” Groza may be in the Hall of Fame, made nine-All Pro teams as both a kicker and an offensive lineman, but give me “Philly The Groin” over him all day long.
Dawson is the Browns all-time leading scorer, yet he has only been to one playoff game in his illustrious career. In that game, his team lost to Pittsburgh. That was a long nine years ago. After the 2010 season where his team lost double digit games again, Dawson seemed to have one foot out the door. However, GM Tom Heckert decided to do something that doesn’t happen very often in the NFL – he used his team’s franchise tag on their Kicker. So Dawson was tied to the Browns for another year and once again performed to a Pro Bowl level. He was 24-29 on field goals, and only one of those was a straight miss. He had four kicks blocked as result of either poor blocking or bad snaps and also managed to nail a career high seven field goals from 50 yards or longer.
Phil is at the top of his game still and the frustration of another losing season has to be eating at him.
On Sunday, Dawson let his disappointment out on Twitter:
I saw that tweet and the first thing that came to my mind was that Phil deserves better than this. He’s been here for 13 years. He has seen every one of the porous regimes come and go. Throughout it all, he kept his mouth shut and did his job to an A level. So I have some advice for him.
Leave Cleveland while you can.
Heckert most likely won’t be using the franchise tag on Dawson a second year in a row for a couple of reasons: With LB D’Qwell Jackson a free agent who the Browns must hang onto, its very possible they would have to use the tag on Jackson if they can’t reach a long term deal. Another aspect of the franchise tag that works against the Browns keeping Dawson, is the raise Dawson would receive if he is indeed tagged again. As Tony Grossi of the PD pointed out Sunday, the Browns kicker would receive a 20% raise in pay, bumping him up to $3.9 million. At first blush you’d think the Browns would be crazy to let him walk, but with so many holes elsewhere, the front office may be thinking that money could be spent more wisely in other places. At some point, they were going to have to start over at kicker with Dawson in his late 30′s. There could be no time like the present.
So Phil, this could be your big chance to get out and sign with a contender, so you don’t have to be “watching playoff football…again” next January. If I’m a cold weather contender with shaky kickers, like the Jets or the Steelers for example, I target Dawson in free agency. Nobody knows the swirling winds of the AFC North stadiums like Phil does.
If Dawson does leave, it will be a new era of Browns kicking. Incredibly, as poor as the Browns have been over the last 30 years, they have really been lucky in this department. Don Cockroft kicked for the Browns from 1968-1980. Matt Bahr took over in 1981 and departed for the New York Giants in 1990. After one year of the Jerry Kauric experience, Matt Stover took over the reins as Browns kicked until the team move to Baltimore in 1996. Stover incredibly kicked for the Ravens through 2008. Dawson has been the incumbent for the last 13 years.