Browns lose more than a kicker in Dawson

March, 19, 2013
3/19/13
5:39
PM ET
Free-agent kicker Phil Dawson announced that he has signed with the San Francisco 49ers, ending his 14-year run with the Cleveland Browns.

For Browns fans, you're either sad that the most productive player of the expansion era Browns is gone or you're happy that Dawson gets a shot at a Super Bowl ring. Or maybe it's both.

The Browns' new regime has made it clear that they're not interested in short-term solutions in free agency, which means no one over the age of 30. But Dawson, 38, should have been the exception. He's earned that right. Dawson leaves just 78 points shy of Lou Groza's Browns record for career points (1,349).

No one knows if the Browns could've changed Dawson's mind from going to a contender like the 49ers and rejoining special teams coach Brad Seely. But there was never a sense from chief executive officer Joe Banner that the Browns really wanted Dawson back. The Browns should've done everything in their power to keep Dawson here.

Dawson wasn't just a kicker. He was a piece of history. Dawson was the last remaining player from the 1999 expansion Browns. He battled the unpredictable lakefront winds. He battled through all the losing seasons. The Browns should have found some way to give him a two-year deal.

Even though his departure was long expected, it didn't make his goodbye any less sentimental.

Dawson posted this on Twitter shortly after announcing he was leaving for the 49ers: "Hey, Cleveland. Thank you for a tremendous ride. Your love, support & encouragement have blessed me deeply."

Whoever comes in to replace Dawson, and it could be a rookie in this year's draft, the Browns are downgrading themselves at kicker. Dawson’s 93.5 percent (29-of-31) conversion rate led the AFC, and he finished 7-for-7 on field goals from 50 yards or longer, which also were the most in the AFC.

There's always the chance that Dawson could suffer an unexpected decline like David Akers. But he has only gotten better with each passing year. Dawson became the first Browns player to be selected to the Pro Bowl as a kicker last year (Groza was selected as a tackle). With 116 points, he extended his team record to six 100-point seasons in a career. He also set a career high with 30 touchbacks, which is 12 more than any other season.

Dawson is the most accurate kicker (84 percent) in NFL history among kickers with 300 or more field goals. From this point on, he is the benchmark by which all Browns kickers are measured.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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