CLEVELAND -- The Browns aren't kicking Phil Dawson aside.
The team placed its franchise tag on the longtime dependable kicker, the only player remaining from Cleveland's 1999 expansion squad. Dawson, who was expected to become a free agent, will make $3.25 million next season, and it's possible he could still sign a long-term contract with the Browns.
He's been trying to get a new deal from the club for several years. But despite being underpaid among his peers -- he made $1 million last season -- Dawson has continued to perform at a high level. He has connected on 252 of 303 career attempts, an 83.2 percentage, ninth-best in NFL history.
Last season, the 36-year-old made 23 of 28 field goals and all 28 extra points. Dawson also passed Hall of Famer Lou Groza for the most field goals in team history and joined Groza and Don Cockroft as the only Browns to surpass 1,000 points.
Dawson is the first player franchised by the Browns since their return.
He was expected to hit the free-agent market in March, and was prepared for it. In fact, he sold his suburban home here, and moved his family back to his native Texas. He left Cleveland after the season finale thinking he had probably played his last game with the Browns.
However, the uncertain labor situation may have changed the landscape for both he and the Browns, who recognize his value.
Dawson has been unhappy with the club for not rewarding his consistency and longevity. He skipped the Browns' offseason workouts last season in protest for not getting a new contract. It's not known how he feels about the franchise tag.
Dawson did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press.
He has been clutch, kicking 14 career game-winning field goals, and Dawson has been especially good in Cleveland's unpredictable weather. He has mastered the tricky winds off Lake Erie and become one of the league's premier kickers in cold conditions.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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