Signing Phil Dawson to a New Contract Should Be a Huge Browns Priority

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVMarch 1, 2013

A contract—even for one year—makes far more sense than letting Phil Dawson leave Cleveland in free agency.
A contract—even for one year—makes far more sense than letting Phil Dawson leave Cleveland in free agency.Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi broke down the situations of each of the Cleveland Browns' 18 free agents on Friday and came to one conclusion—it doesn't look like any will be retained for 2013.

From age to declining skill, poor scheme fit to poor injury histories, each of these 18 players all appear to have enough strikes against them to keep them from getting new contracts or even the franchise tag.

It's hard to argue with Grossi's reasoning on the majority of these players. However, on the list of free agents, one name stands out as the player whom the Browns should invest in, at least for one more year: kicker Phil Dawson.

The issue with retaining Dawson is a financial one. The franchise tag for kickers this year is valued at $2.977 million but with Dawson having received the tag in the last two years, the rules state that any non-quarterback who is to be tagged a third time must receive the tag value of a quarterback, which in 2013 is $14.896 million. Clearly, that is not an option.

Regardless of how well Dawson has performed over the course of his career and in 2012 in particular, there's no way the Browns would pay him that much money—in fact, there's no way any team would want to tie up nearly $15 million in a kicker for one year. It's off the table and it's ridiculous to discuss it further.

However, when weighing Dawson's value to the Browns, it doesn't seem to be a bad move to sign him to a one-year deal equal to the price of what the actual kicking franchise tag would run. 

In 2012, Dawson made 29 of his 31 field goal attempts—the best percentage of his career—as well as hitting all 29 of his point-after attempts. The performance netted him the first Pro Bowl appearance of his 14-year career and put him 78 points away from Lou Groza's team scoring record. 

Cleveland is the only team Dawson has officially kicked for since he entered the NFL, and he's been with the Browns since the team returned to the league in 1999. His loyalty has been rewarded by steadfast fan support, but seemingly the powers that be in Cleveland's front office haven't been as moved, considering he's gotten no more than the franchise tag in each of the last two seasons.

Who knows why the Browns have been so unwilling to give Dawson a deal. Perhaps it's his age; perhaps it's the fact that his years with the team would have resulted in a yearly salary beyond what they think he—or any kicker—is worth (think a Sebastian Janikowski-style payday of $3.8 million per year); perhaps it was Dawson himself, uncertain about when he'd choose to retire and not wanting to cause any salary cap hassle if he did so before his deal was up. 

However, the Browns could do worse—almost certainly no better—than Dawson in 2013. By giving him a one-year deal equivalent of the kicking franchise tag this season, they wouldn't be overpaying for a player who is over the hill, and while it could be considered pandering to the fans, it wouldn't be a bad gesture to extend to a fanbase that is still quite skeptical about the new leadership regime. 

Grossi intimates that Dawson wouldn't mind moving on, that he "hopes to end his career with a winning team," but if this is an assumption on Grossi's part, it's a pretty dismal one.

Though the Browns are yet again a team in transition, that doesn't mean they're incapable of putting together a better-than-.500 record in 2013. And considering Dawson has stuck with Cleveland since 1999, even after two years playing with the franchise tag without complaint, would he really want to jump ship to a seemingly "better" team after that many years? 

Reason after reason Grossi gives for the other 17 Browns free agents to not get new deals make complete sense. Just because the Browns have the cap space to re-sign every one of those players and then some doesn't mean they should. However, it wouldn't be a stretch to give Dawson a deal. He's still doing his job at a high level, and they can afford him.

Yes, the concept of "if it's not broken, don't fix it" has gone ignored by the Browns in years past, but when it comes to Dawson, it makes more sense to sign him for at least 2013, if not longer, than let him walk away in favor of someone new.