The Cleveland Browns have been in the NFL headlines for several weeks. New team owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have rebuilt a front office that is now expected to move the franchise forward over the course of the next few seasons.
However, now that the new coaches and personnel are in place, there are some significant decisions to be made in order for the team to move forward this spring. As the Browns prepare for the draft at the end of April, re-signing players that could head into unrestricted free agency is now one of the biggest issues facing the organization.
Team owner Jimmy Haslam said at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards that the team will “have to decide over the next few weeks” which players Cleveland will attempt to re-sign.
Josh Cribbs, Sheldon Brown, Phil Dawson and Mohammed Massaqoui are just four players out of a list of 13 that will be unrestricted free agents if the Browns choose not to work out a new deal with them this offseason.
For Browns fans, Dawson’s name has to be the most interesting on that list because of the 14-year history he has as a member of the franchise.
Dawson has been the longest tenured Browns player and has been kicking for Cleveland since their return to the NFL in 1999. Dawson has kicked the most field goals in Browns history and is second on their all-time scoring list behind Lou “The Toe” Groza.
Kickers in the NFL are said to be a dime a dozen, but if Dawson wishes to continue playing football, the Browns owe it to him to bring him back with a new contract. Dawson is still as consistent as they come in the NFL and has been nearly flawless on field goal attempts throughout the past few seasons.
More importantly, kicking in Cleveland can be one of the hardest jobs in the National Football League.
For a player who is not familiar with FirstEnergy Stadium, the weather that Lake Erie can bring in the second half of the season can be daunting. Dawson even struggled initially in 1999, when he posted only a 66.7% field goal percentage, the lowest of his career.
An inconsistent kicker can be a big concern for a team who is looking to improve in the NFL, and the Browns have not had to worry about that with Dawson booting field goals for them over the last decade.
Dawson was ranked second in the NFL in 2012 in field goal percentage (93.5%) and was eighth in total field goals made with 29. Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers was ranked last in league, hitting on only 63% of his kicks and only putting through 21 field goals on 33 attempts (two more attempts than Dawson).
Terry Pluto wrote in a December column:
“Tell me again, why the Browns can't sign Phil Dawson? I know, he'll be 38 on Jan. 23. I know, he's 'just a kicker.' But I also know he has become a tremendous kicker in his late 30s. And I know that while Dawson now is receiving a lot of love from the fans, he truly won't be appreciated until someone else is trying to kick into the wind, rain and sometimes snow whipping off the shores of Lake Erie. Dawson is more than a kicker, more than the most consistent player for the Browns since 1999. He's like Dick Goddard in an orange helmet, a man who knows how to gauge and deal with those dreaded winds aloft and the mud below”
The Browns have quietly been preparing for Dawson to leave the team, working out former Missouri Tigers kicker, Jeff Wolfert, during training camp over the past few seasons.
Brian Murtaugh is a former Cleveland Browns Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and is the founder of National Football Direct.