Mike Priefer shed a few tears when the Browns traded for two additional fourth round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Priefer, entering his fourth season as the Browns' special teams coordinator, knew whom one of the picks was likely going to be used for: Cade York, the kicker he fell in love with in the months leading up to the draft. He was crazy for York after he met him at the NFL Combine and watched him during a private workout in Baton Rouge, where York attended LSU and became the top kicking prospect in the draft.
The Browns acquired the 118th and 124th overall picks when they traded back from 44th overall on Day 2 of the draft, giving them two picks in the zone they believe York would be drafted.
Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry was trying to grab Priefer's guy, and he couldn't have been happier.
"When we made the trade – I will be honest with you – I had tears streaming down my face," he said. "I was a very happy man. We traded the first pick of the fourth round, and I was like, 'Oh boy, here we go.'"
Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout the offseason
The Browns drafted him at pick No. 124, the highest a kicker had been picked since Roberto Aguayo in 2016. The Browns weren't certain York would've still been on the board when they picked next in the fifth round, and they felt confident he'd be able to carve a long future in Cleveland's often-difficult kicking conditions because of Priefer's glowing evaluation.
York converted 15-of-19 field goal attempts of 50 or more yards at LSU and missed only six kicks in 39 tries his last two seasons. Priefer believes his poise and power will help him stay consistent at FirstEnergy Stadium, where he's already taken several kicking sessions since he arrived in Cleveland.
"He's very confident," Priefer said. "He understands his craft. He's young. We have already had him down to the stadium, I think, three times. We're going again (Thursday). We're going to go again during minicamp in a couple of weeks. The more confident he is in our stadium, the better kicker he will be."
Priefer repeatedly mentioned York's consistency in kicks from 40-49 yards as one of the best parts of his resume. After going 5-for-10 from that range as a freshman, York improved and converted five of his six attempts in the last two years.
That powerful leg should help drive kicks on a straighter line on gusty afternoons at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns have cycled through roughly one new kicker per year since longtime kicker Phil Dawson departed the organization in 2012, and that's partly because of the difficulty that comes with kicking balls near the windy conditions near Lake Erie.
York's accuracy from long range is the kind of proof Priefer was looking for in a kicker who could persevere through the challenge.
"That is kind of your money kick — 40-49 (yards)," Priefer said. "(From) 50 (yards)-plus, you are hoping to make 60-65 percent maybe, but 40-49 in this league, you have to be 90 percent."
York's addition was the last of a few other major changes the Browns completed to their special teams unit this offseason.
Other additions include Pro Bowl returner Jakeem Grant, who has been one of the top kick and punt returners in the league since he was drafted in 2016. They also signed Corey Bojorquez, the owner of the two longest punts in the NFL the last two seasons, and Joseph Charlton, who averaged 44.3 yards per punt across two seasons.
The Browns have had revolving players at kicker, punter and returner since Priefer arrived in Cleveland in 2019, but the Browns were aggressive in finding him some of the best options available. He's ready to make the most of their talents.
"We're playing in what in my opinion is the best division in football when it comes to special teams," he said. "Every team is really good. In order to keep up with those guys, we needed to sign a good returner, and I think we did that, so I'm excited about Jakeem. The punting game, obviously, we were very inconsistent last year and we had to make a change down the stretch. (Former Browns and NFL P) Dustin (Colquitt) did a good job as a veteran punter and had a veteran presence to our team, but having these two young guys, Corey and Joe fight it out, it will be a great competition."
Just one of the new additions — York — hasn't had the chance to prove their talents at the NFL level yet.
But as the high draft pick and Priefer's emotional response when the Browns maneuvered their draft picks to grab him suggest, the Browns are confident he'll develop quickly.
"To me, the sky's the limit," Priefer said. "He can be really, really good. I'm excited about him. He's the right guy. He's the right guy for our stadium, for our city and for the division that we play in."