July 24, 2014

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Kicker Phil Dawson headed to San Francisco after 14 years with Browns

Phil Dawson is 78 points shy of Lou Groza’s record for most points in Browns history. Dawson is 17 games behind Clay Matthews for most played in team history.

Dawson

Dawson is no longer a member of the Browns.

After 14 years with Cleveland, Dawson signed a one-year contract Tuesday with the 49ers. He is taking his heart, leg and knowledge of the winds off Lake Erie to San Francisco.

“I am humbled & thrilled to have the opportunity to continue my career with my new team, the SF 49ers!” Dawson tweeted before the 49ers announced the deal.

First, he said goodbye to his adopted home.

“Hey, Cleveland. Thank you for a tremendous ride. Your love, support & encouragement have blessed me deeply,” he tweeted. “Playing for you has been one of the great joys of my life, and I wish you all the best.”

Dawson, 38, joined the Browns in 1999 as a free agent, became one of the best players in franchise history and was the longest-tenured member of the team — the lone holdover from the expansion season.

His improvement in accuracy and leg strength continued into the second half of his 30s and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl in December. He was 29-for-31 on field goals in 2012, including 13-for-13 from 40 yards and beyond.

The Browns have plenty of room under the salary cap, but they never seemed to be in the mix to retain Dawson. At the end of the season, he seemed conflicted on whether he wanted to endure another regime change to try to finish his career in Cleveland, or start fresh somewhere else.

The 49ers offer that opportunity, along with a much improved chance of winning.

The Browns went to one playoff game in Dawson’s tenure and had only two winning seasons. The 49ers lost the Super Bowl in February and appear poised to make another run. Dawson will also be reunited with special teams coordinator/assistant head coach Brad Seely, who was with the Browns in 2009-10.

“It’s hard to pick just one (reason), that’s what makes it such an attractive place,” Dawson said during a conference call with 49ers media Tuesday night. “One of the storied teams in the NFL and a team that’s on the verge of winning it all. … When you start mixing all that together, even for an idiot like me it’s an easy decision.”

Dawson was asked about the removed possibility of spending his whole career with the Browns.

“There were definitely times I thought that would be the case, and in some ways hoped that would be the case,” Dawson said. “This is just the way it goes. I’m not in much of a position to reflect at this point because I’m so excited about the task ahead.

“I’m grateful for the road that it’s been and excited for where it goes now.”

On multiple occasions in the past month, Cleveland CEO Joe Banner refused to discuss his thinking regarding re-signing Dawson. He was asked if he understood Dawson’s popularity with fans.

“I do and I don’t. It’s just relative,” Banner told reporters at the owners meeting in Arizona. “I’ve been in the league a long time and I understand players that have been on one team a long time, played as well as he has, have the affection that he deserves from the fans. I understand that.”

Dawson had been seeking a long-term deal from the Browns for years, but it never happened. The previous regime of president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert used the franchise tag to keep him the last two years, but that wasn’t an option this season because of a prohibitive salary bump for being tagged a third time.

“We want to thank Phil for all of his years of service to the Cleveland Browns,” the team said in a statement. “He accomplished a great deal in his time here on the field, as a team leader and in the community. We know how much Phil meant to our organization and our fans, and he will always hold a special place in our franchise’s history and with the city of Cleveland. We want to wish Phil and his family the best of success in San Francisco.”

Dawson is the Browns’ all-time leader with 305 field goals and an 84 percent field-goal conversion rate. He’s second in career points, trailing Groza 1,349-1,271. Dawson would’ve been in position to surpass the Hall of Famer if he had stayed for 2013.

Owner Jimmy Haslam said that wasn’t a factor.

“I don’t think you can look at things like that,” he said in Arizona. “I think you have to look at what’s best for the franchise over a period of time. I’d be shocked if Phil didn’t agree with that. He’s a professional.

“He’s a quality person and a great player and he’s been great for our community and for our team.”

Dawson is third on the team’s list with 215 games played, trailing Clay Matthews (232) and Groza (216).

“The 49ers just got better on the field & in the locker room! Congrats to @phil_dawson_4! Good things happen to good people!” former Browns linebacker Scott Fujita tweeted.

“An awesome teammate and friend — really really good in awful conditions too,” former Browns offensive lineman Tony Pashos tweeted.

Dawson’s .840 field-goal percentage ranks No. 1 in NFL history for kickers with 300 field goals. His .706 percentage on 50-yarders is third.

The Browns don’t have a replacement and will go younger through free agency or the draft. They will have a difficult time replacing Dawson’s leadership as well as his mastery of the wind and sloppy turf at FirstEnergy Stadium. He converted 84.9 percent at home, while the opposition made 76.6 percent.

“From experience The next kicker for the #Browns may want to call @phil_dawson_4 to understand the winds in that stadium … he mastered it!” former Browns punter Dave Zastudil tweeted.

Cribbs to Cards on hold

Special teams ace Joshua Cribbs hopes to sign with Arizona, but he’ll have to wait until his surgically repaired knee is better. Cribbs took a physical with the Cardinals on Monday.

“He did not fail his physical,” agent J.R. Rickert told the Akron Beacon Journal. “The team just wanted more time to let his knee heal from after-season surgery.”

Cribbs, a free agent after spending eight seasons with the Browns, had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Rickert said.
Haslam was asked about the decision not to retain Cribbs, a three-time Pro Bowler.

“We’re trying to build a team here,” Haslam said. “If you look at where teams are, in terms of about to win the Super Bowl, about to win their conference championship, we’re building, right? So I think you have to look at where people are in their career and decide who fits best and who doesn’t.

“We’re not going to be 13-3 next year. If we were going to be 13-3 and on the verge of going to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, I think you look at your lineup one way. If you’re fighting to get above — have we won more than five games in the last five years? So if you’re that, then I think you have to look to build.”

i>Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.