Browns stick to plan with kicker

Posted Sep 3, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the signing of kicker Billy Cundiff doesn’t leave the team in as much trouble as some people assume.

For a fair amount of Browns faithful, Tuesday’s signing of veteran Billy Cundiff was less of a resolution of the team’s kicking situation than it was an excuse to continue bemoaning the departure of Phil Dawson.

Such sentiment existed when rookie Brandon Bogotay and another veteran, Shayne Graham, waged a foot-to-foot battle for the job that ended with both being released and sent the Browns on a renewed search for Dawson’s replacement only days before the start of the season.

Although it’s true that none of the three matches Dawson’s stature as one of the NFL’s very best at his position, it isn’t entirely fair to say that the Browns suddenly find themselves in a bad place at a spot that once provided tremendous reliability.

The reality was that there was little to no chance they were going to be able to replace Dawson with another, well, Dawson. The Browns’ decision-makers understood that when they allowed him to hit the open market, and, subsequently, sign with the San Francisco 49ers.

I’ve heard from multiple fans who have said, “Why didn’t they just pay him what he wanted to stay?”

The short answer is that, philosophically, that was not in line with the business plan that chief executive officer Joe Banner and the rest of the team’s management put in place upon their arrival.

A heavy investment in a kicker might make sense for a team, such as the 49ers, that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender and looking to fill a few holes. For a team like the Browns, who are in the early phases of trying to build that kind of a squad, it doesn’t.
There is far more work to be done here. This team is being revamped, not tweaked, with an eye toward investing in young, rising players who will contribute to long-term success.

And the fact is, if you had a kicker whose field-goal accuracy is at the top of the NFL, somewhere in the range of 87 percent, you’re getting someone who is worth about a victory-and-a-half. I’m not suggesting that is nothing, but it’s hardly enough to justify pouring valuable assets and salary-cap space in that direction when the greater priority is to field an offense that’s far less reliant on field goals than the Browns have been through most of Dawson’s 14 seasons in Cleveland.

As a result, they ended up sifting through a kicking pool with candidates whose credentials aren’t sterling. They fully expected that to be the case, and in selecting Cundiff, they got what they felt was the best leg available.

This is what Cundiff has going for him: 1.) He was a Pro Bowler in 2010, as part of his two and a half seasons with the Baltimore Ravens; 2.) Having spent five games with the Browns in 2009, he has a good grasp of the swirling winds and other weather-related challenges that go with kicking in Cleveland and the rest of the AFC North cities.

But Cundiff is on his fourth team in two seasons, having been cut by the Ravens in 2012 after missing nine field-goal attempts in the 2011 regular season and a 32-yard try that would have tied the AFC Championship Game. He did not kick particularly well for the Washington Redskins last year, either.
It’s easy for those still unhappy about Dawson’s departure to focus on Cundiff’s shortcomings or the fact the Browns needed to go through an entire offseason, training camp, preseason and audition four candidates (including Giorgio Tavecchio) before finding Dawson’s replacement.

However, when you look at the bigger picture, you see that the Browns are not nearly as damaged as some have been so quick to assume.

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