Story of the Week: Phil Dawson Edition

OBR readers react to Phil Dawson's franchise tag designation.

Only in Cleveland.

Although the Underwear Olympics/Contemporary Cattle Call is underway in Indianapolis this week, where a parade of NFL hopefuls are performing gym class heroics for the likes of NFL scouts and personnel executives, the attention around Browns Nation has shifted towards the state of the team's longest-tenured veteran – kicker Phil Dawson.

And for good reason.  Considering the variety of rebooting the Browns have performed during the expansion era, Dawson has remained the only constant of the past decade – serving as the lone link to the team's return in 1999.

In a departure from the OBR's Tap Room Forum, this week's Story of the Week comes straight from the front pages of the Mothership, as the great Fred Greetham posted the following – which was focused on the Browns' management finally employing a bit of common sense.

Greetham – A Smart Move

Dawson was to become an unrestricted free agent, but the Browns named him their franchise player, which allows them to negotiate a contract with him, while paying him between approximately $3 to 3.5 million.

Dawson is one of the best kickers in NFL history and easily could've been lost if he hit the free agent market.

However, the point that many readers picked up on was this suggestion….

Dawson kicked at the University of Texas and he and his wife, Shannon, are from Texas. With the Cowboys uncertainty at kicker, Dawson might have landed in his home state.

And naturally, in a journalism world predicated on all-too easy aggregation, what Greetham pointed out on February 22 was reproduced a day later….

PD's Livingston on Dawson

Dawson thought he was so gone as a free agent -- probably back to his native Texas, in hopes that jittery Jerry Jones might money-whip him as the latest final piece to the puzzle in Dawson's hometown of Dallas -- that he sold his Westlake home after the season ended. Now it will cost a prospective suitor two first-round draft choices to take on Dawson and his new $3 million contract.

And let the games begin….

 

First, from this week's Disqus MVP….

Smithm

Don't understand how FTing Phil could make you happy for Phil and his family. By FT Phil the Browns have prevented Phil from joining his family in Texas and signing a mulit-year contract with the Cowboys. Now Phil will be geographical bachelor (separated from his family) and forced to play for a team that doesn't want to sign him to a multi-year deal. This FTing may end up costing Phil both money and job security. What happens if Phil gets hurt next year or has an off season next year? I will tell you what most likely will happen, the Browns will release him and Phil will not be offered a multi-year contract by another club.

 

Next, from the moderate minority, a.k.a. Browns fan….

Mdoogal

I'm glad Phil will be back. For a couple of years Phil Dawson was one of the few bright spots due to his consistency, and lack of scoring by the offense.

 

And finally, from a voice of reason….

Jeff Biletnikoff

I have to weigh in...this whole thread seems to be arguing about whether Phil deserves a multi year deal (he does) and whether or not he got screwed because he decided to move his family (he didn't). He's been paid millions (deservedly) and will get paid millions more (and also deservedly). He's also got a guaranteed job as a kicking teacher (he does have kicking camps already) for life. All this to kick a ball. He deserves every penny he's ever been paid but "getting screwed" is not a phrase that should ever apply to that man's professional life.

 

Before I reach for another "only in Cleveland" flag, let's state the obvious.

Dawson has been one of the league's most consistent kickers – playing in one of the league's most unpredictable stadiums.  Anyone who has suffered through seasonal affective disorder or has had to carve out ice from their car windshield understands that kicking in Cleveland presents some unique challenges.  For Dawson to not only survive as a kicker in Cleveland, but to flourish, is an impressive feat.  To do this for twelve seasons is nothing short of remarkable.  Throw in the additional challenges of annually trying to kick in the wind mazes of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and even places like Buffalo – and Dawson is truly a Browns' legend.

However, despite all of Dawson's brilliant production, he is also a kicker.  According to the capitalistic savagery of the NFL, this makes players like Dawson completely disposable.  There has yet to be an NFL season in the modern era where multiple teams have not released kickers – and the draft does not regularly produce kicking talent.

Adding to Dawson's misfortune is the idea that he has never played on a consistent playoff contender.  While Dawson has produced some memorable plays, including 2007's immaculate bounce in Baltimore and the blizzard kick against Buffalo a few weeks later; none of these moments occurred in the playoffs.  For a simple comparison, think of the legacy of New England's Adam Vinatieri, or even Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed.  In terms of career kicking percentage, Dawson is every bit the equal of both Vinatieri and Reed, but only in a miniaturized, regular season version.

But still, even in a decade of Browns' futility, Dawson's accomplishments are to be celebrated.  Of course, the point here is that had the Browns had some playoff success, Dawson would currently be considered a transcendent figure in Cleveland – one whose current contract situation would not generate nearly the amount of discussion found this week.

Instead, Dawson finds himself in the midst of yet another franchise revamping.  While there appears to be a slow uptick in the overall progress of the Browns, the mere fact that Dawson is the first Brown to be tagged as a franchise player during the expansion era speaks volumes about the current state of the organization.  Simply put, because of the constant personnel shifts that have occurred over the past decade – and the resulting lack of talent produced – the Browns have never had to employ such a device.

This statement in itself is mind-blowing. 

However, in an attempt to remain optimistic as it relates to what appears to be a more competent front-office direction, the move to tag Dawson makes perfect financial sense.  Despite Dawson's production and emotional value to the franchise, we are still talking about a 36-year old player.  In a nod to cold logic, the Browns' brain trust is trying to retain a sense of flexibility.  Keeping Dawson for another year – despite the huge bump in pay incurred from a franchise tag – makes more financial sense than re-signing him to a long-term contract. 

On this note, it's worth stepping back to analyze just what the Browns are doing as an organization.  In case you haven't noticed, this is a franchise which is about to undergo a massive youth movement.  There is a great likelihood that the 2011 Browns will feature up to 10-12 new starters – players who will be serving under a brand new head coach.  To lock up a veteran kicker at a premium rate does not make complete sense – especially considering that the makeup of next year's roster is completely unknown at this point.

By franchising Dawson, the Browns' front office is basically making two statements.  First, gone are the days of reactionary Phil Savage-esque moves, which involved throwing away millions of dollars in a vain, short-sighted attempt to fix the team.  Second, the Browns' front office is admitting what most fans already know – Dawson is a valuable member of the team.  Otherwise, there would be several teams around the league who would be interested in the veteran kicker.

This brings us to the final point….and another "only in Cleveland."

Because of Dawson's decision to sell his Cleveland home, his Texas roots and his hometown proximity to the Dallas Cowboys, many – including OBR reader SmithM – have assumed that the Browns have somehow derailed Dawson's chances to cash in with Jerry Jones.  Any legitimacy to this claim is based on nothing short of logistics.  Anything further would seem to constitute tampering.  After all, what if Dawson hailed from Indianapolis?  Or New England?

In this case, does Dawson become a victim of his birthplace? 

Perhaps – but in a more logical manner, Dawson is simply a victim of both NFL capitalism and his team's constant efforts to rebuild.  During his tenure in Cleveland, the Browns have installed five different head coaches and five different types of management.  Once Dawson was established as a reliable kicker in the early part of last decade, Butch Davis and Pete Garcia had already given way to Phil Savage.  In seeking a new contract, Dawson simply missed the boat during Savage's reign – when millions of dollars were handed out to the likes of Derek Anderson, Donte Stallworth, Shaun Rogers and others.  A period of financial restraint followed thanks to Eric Mangini and now the Browns appear to be in the midst of a careful evaluative mode.

As to the thoughts that somehow Dawson has been "screwed" by the Browns, such talk borders on the bizarre.  To assume that the likes of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert have acted in some type of vindictive manner is just nonsense.  Even if there is a tangible connection between Dawson and the Cowboys, the Browns have every right to try to retain their players – or release them.  On the same hand, Dawson retains his own rights.  If he truly wants to return home, he can simply not report to the team.

And as for real estate sales and torn families, I'm thinking that this will not be a part of the ongoing NFL labor negotiations.  Professional athletes know how the game works.  In exchange for receiving unbelievable salaries, players have to make some concessions.  Fortunately for everyone involved, there are roughly thousands of planes in the air during a given day.

So, the intersection of common sense and raw emotion has again been crossed.  For the Browns, they have gained a bit of flexibility as the latest franchise makeover continues.  For Dawson, he remains where he has always been – seemingly stuck within a process that can be construed as unfair, yet ultimately incredibly rewarding.

Only in Cleveland.