How do you replace a Cleveland Browns Legend? Phil Dawson coming off the best season of his career signed a one year deal with the San Francisco 49ers worth $2.5 million, that’s more than a million less that he averaged in his previous two years with the Browns (3.5). He was the second most accurate kicker in the league last year, making 29-31 field goals and in the last two years he’s 14-15 from 50 yards or more. So, it won’t be easy.
Browns CEO Joe Banner had a similar situation in Philadelphia with PK David Akers who was coming off a Pro Bowl season just like Dawson. Banner decided it was time to let the Akers go and the Eagles picked Alex Henery in the fourth round from Nebraska. Henery made 51-58 field goal attempts his first two seasons there. Banner may opt to do it again this year in the draft so let’s breakdown his options:
Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State (6-2, 193)
If you’re looking for the best kicker in the draft this is the guy. Hopkins is the 1st ACC player to score 400+ career points. He’s the FBS career leader in points scored by a kicker (466), 3rd among all players. He made 25-30 field goal attempts last year, of those 5-6 from 50+ yards. In his career he has made 79% of his field goals (93% if you count extra points). On his Pro-Day he did nothing but impress making kicks from 53 and 58 with ease. He is projected by some to be drafted in the late 4th to early 6th rounds.
Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida (5-10, 188)
Sturgis is up there with Hopkins and is just as good but has durability concerns missing most of the 2010 season and one game in 2011. This guy has a strong and accurate leg; last year he made 85.7 of his field goals (24-28) of those he was 3-3 on kicks of 50+ yards. In his career he has made 70 or 88 (79.5%) of his field goals and with 8 field goals of 50+ yards he is #1 in Florida History. Even though it was pouring rain on his Pro-Day he still managed to impress nailing kick after kick then highlighting the day with a 58 yard field goal.
Quinn Sharp, K, Oklahoma State (6-1, 189)
Sharp was a four-year starter at punter for the Cowboys but took over kicking duties as a Junior. He made 28-34 field goals last year and made 85% of his career kicks. He has a strong leg but his accuracy from long range needs to be worked on, last year he was 2-5 from 50+ yards. It’s always good to have a guy that can play both positions though. Sharp didn’t have the best Pro-Day but he did impress scouts making a 60 yard field goal to end the day.
Those are the best options in the draft, but if the Browns decide to go to the free agent market who’s available? That list includes: Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, David Akers, Jason Hanson, Steven Hauschka, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham and Olindo Mare. Of those only Hauschka (28) is under the age of 30. I see only 3 viable options here Lawrence Tynes, Steven Hauschka and Shayne Graham. Let’s break it down:
Lawrence Tynes, K, (Giants) Age: 34
He made $1.3 million last year and with the Giants signing Josh Brown; Tynes is left looking for a new home. He made 33-39 field goals in 2012 but only 1-3 were from 50+ yards. Having experience with fighting the elements outdoors may make him a prime target for the browns.
Shayne Graham, K, (Texans) Age: 35
Graham only made $925k last year, which makes him the cheapest option of the three. He went 31-38 last year with 4-9 from 50+ yards. Graham played six years for the Bengals so he is no stranger to First Energy Stadium.
Steven Hauschka, K, (Seahawks) Age: 28
He made $1.26 million last year and is the youngest of all free agent options. Hauschka went 24-27 in 2012 only making 1-4 from 50+ yards. In the last two seasons he has only made 3-8 from beyond 50 yards which makes you worry in long game winning chance. Like Tynes he has experience in the elements playing in Baltimore, Denver and Seattle.
It’s hard to replace a guy that was as dependable as Phil Dawson was. When he went on for a field goal try you could look away in confidence that he would make it. I feel bad for anyone replacing his shoes; the first miss he makes will not go well for the fans, especially if he misses a game-winner.
Looking at Banners history, one would think he’s going to draft a kicker. I look for the Browns to draft Sturgis or Hopkins in the 5th round, if they are both off the board by then I think they’ll look at one of these free agents. I guess I should note that the Browns flew in Youtube star Havard “Kickalicious” Rugland but it is highly doubtful they’ll sign him.