Another Contract Dispute: Should the Cleveland Browns Keep Phil Dawson?

Casey DrottarCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

In the ten years since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL, the team has seen hundreds of faces come and go.  Four different head coaches and GMs, a handful of failed draft picks, and a laundry list of quarterbacks have come to Cleveland without making much noise. 

Yet, through all the years of losing, when roster and coaching changes were as routine as a sunrise, one player has stuck around.  One man has remained with the Browns through the numerous tough times, and those two good times. 

That man is Phil Dawson, place kicker extraordinaire.

In his ten years with the Browns, Dawson has seen it all.  He has been part of the one and only playoff game the team played in since their return.  In 1999, his last second field goal in Pittsburgh with no timeouts left resulted in the rare occurrence that is a victory over the Steelers. 

Dawson has been called upon to kick through sunshine and blizzards, and more times than not, he scores.  He's also the man behind one of the most famous field goals in team history, when his 52-yarder off the stanchion in Baltimore was called no good, then overturned after the game was supposedly over.

Yes, it's safe to say Phil Dawson is a fan favorite in Browns Town.

Now, Dawson is amidst a contract dispute in Cleveland.  He's skipped all voluntary workouts and OTAs scheduled for the team so far, leading many to believe he is considering a holdout. 

Although he plans on attending this week's mandatory minicamp, it's looking like coach Eric Mangini and GM George Kokinis will have to handle another contract conflict.

The team's front office is already dealing with the demands of special teams star Joshua Cribbs, who seems to have eased up on his stance and has been showing up to voluntary workouts despite not getting what he wants. 

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is also hoping to get an extension on his contract, albeit doing so a bit less publicly than his two teammates. 

So, with a new player asking for more money, the question on everyone's mind will be, "Is Phil Dawson worth keeping around?"

The most important thing to look at when considering a player's worth is his stats.  For Phil Dawson, its all good.

Currently, Phil Dawson is the 7th most accurate kicker in the NFL. 

As of the end of the 2008 season, Dawson's career field goal percentage is an impressive 82.8 percent.  Despite a less than average 66.7 percent in his initial season with the Browns, his percentage has never slipped below 72 percent.

In five of his ten seasons in Cleveland he's kicked at least one field goal of 50 yards or longer.  Overall, he's 10-15 kicking from beyond 50 yards.

Like most kickers, Dawson has missed his fair share of chip shots and extra points.  However, he also has five seasons of scoring 100 points or more from field goals.  Though this stat may seem more like an insult to the offense, it is worth noting when a kicker can top the century mark while only scoring three points at a time.

While his stats certainly merit more money, another thing the front office has to consider with contract issues is whether or not the player has a personality which will help the team instead of hurting them.  Kokinis and Mangini felt former tight end Kellen Winslow would be a distraction to the team, which lead to him being dealt to Tampa Bay.

Anyone who follows the Browns knows Phil Dawson is nothing but a class act.

Dawson has dealt with a ton of losing in Cleveland, yet he continues to stick around in hopes of the team going through an uprising.  He's never been outspoken or carried a personality which was bigger than the team (granted, the NFL rarely sees the phenomenon that is a hot-shot place kicker).

During his time with the Browns, Phil Dawson has been asked to do a lot.  He's been called on to kick game winning field goals from 50+ yards more often than not.  Some of these kicks have been made in less than desirable conditions, as lake-effect winter has certainly tried to tear him down before.

Yet, there was never any question when it came to asking Dawson to do the impossible.  He never complained to any coach, claiming the distance was too far or the weather was too rough.  He simply trots out to the field and puts his best effort forward.

One instance of this determination occurred last season during a Monday night game in Buffalo.  The Browns offense stalled late in the fourth quarter, 56 yards away from the goal posts, and a field goal would give the team the lead. 

Former coach Romeo Crennel simply looked over to Dawson, who gave a quick nod, walked on the field, and blasted home the eventual game-winner.

So, if you're looking at stats and character, Phil Dawson is a keeper.  Question is, do Mangini and Kokinis feel the same way?

The facts are facts; a new regime doesn't know the team as well as former coaches do.  They haven't worked with these players, therefore they haven't been able to determine anyone's worth beyond what game-film shows.

Unfortunately for Dawson, a place kicker is much easier to replace than someone like Josh Cribbs.  While Cribbs can be used on pretty much every side of the ball, Dawson simply has one job to do; kick the ball that way.

In fact, Kokinis has already signed a backup kicker in Parker Douglas, a rookie out of South Dakota State.  Word out of training camp is that Douglas is impressing coaches, which doesn't help Phil Dawson's cause.  If Douglas begins to look like a starting kicker, Dawson slowly starts running out of bargaining chips.

Personally, I believe the Browns should keep Phil Dawson. 

He's one of the best kickers in the NFL and is really the only consistent face the Browns have had in the past ten years.  Dawson has proved to show desire for this team, and though his position is limited, he does everything within his power to win for Cleveland.

If the front office does ultimately decide to reject Phil Dawson's bid for a new contract, the fans certainly won't be terribly devastated.  Adam Vinatieri, arguably the best kicker of the past decade, really didn't destroy New England when he left the Patriots to join the Colts.

However, one thing is true about Phil Dawson: He's definitely a player whose impact may ultimately go unnoticed until he's gone.