After 14 seasons, K Phil Dawson leaves Browns
Mar 19, 2013 at 10:28p ET
But then again rarely does a kicker toil with distinction in the mess that has been the Cleveland Browns the last 14 seasons. And that's what Phil Dawson has done since he joined the expansion Browns in 1999.
Tuesday, Dawson's tenure with the Browns came to an end.
Dawson posted on Twitter about midday that he was leaving to sign with the San Francisco 49ers. Later, the 49ers made his signing official. Typically Dawson did not start with the news about himself, but with gratitude to Cleveland.
"Hey, Cleveland. Thank you for a tremendous ride," Dawson wrote. "Your love, support & encouragement have blessed me deeply. Playing for you has been one of the great joys of my life, and I wish you all the best."
He added he was "humbled and thrilled" to sign with San Francisco.
Dawson leaves the Browns 78 points shy of becoming the team's all-time scoring leader. His departure sent Twitter into overdrive with Browns fans commenting on his becoming a 49er -- most were angry or disappointed, some wished him a Super Bowl ring and a small minority said it was time to move on.
The Browns released a statement about Dawson's departure wishing him well and thanking him, but CEO Joe Banner declined to comment when asked at the league's annual meetings. One day earlier, Banner was asked if he understood the questions about Dawson.
"I do and I don't," he said. "It's just relative. 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."
Earlier in the day, prior to Dawson's post on Twitter, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam admitted that the Browns are building.
"(Dawson's) a quality person and a great player," Haslam said. "And he's been great for our community and our team."
He then addressed the eventual free-agent departure of Josh Cribbs to Arizona -- delayed until Cribbs can pass a physical related to a cartilage injury at the Pro Bowl. Haslam could have been talking about Dawson when he spoke of Cribbs.
"I think you have to look at where people are in their career and who fits best and who doesn't …" Haslam said. "Like I said, we're not going to be 13-3 next year. If we're going to be 13-3 and we're on the verge of going to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, I think you look at your lineup one way. I think if you're fighting to get above … have we won more than five games the last five years? So if you're in that then I think you have to look to build."
He added giving Dawson a chance to break the team's scoring record did not factor into the team's thinking.
"I don't think you can look at things like that," Haslam said. "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."
Banner has said that the Browns want guys who will be on the team in two or three years when he expects the Browns to be good. At 38, Dawson might not fit that description.
Dawson, though, seemed to get stronger and kick better as he got older.
Last season, he earned a long-overdue Pro Bowl berth when he made 29 of 31 field goals, including all seven longer than 50 yards. The past two seasons, he's gone 14-of-15 from 50 or longer.
Also, there were no other players on the team fans identified with more than they did with Dawson. He signed as an undrafted free agent after spending a year on the Patriots practice squad and worked his way to success.In a time of miserable play on the field, he often was the lone bright spot.
Dawson scored the new Browns first rushing touchdown on a fake field goal, made a long kick in swirling snow and wind against Buffalo and created the "Dawson bar" with a key kick in Baltimore that sent a Browns win to overtime. He was the model of consistency and dependability. And he did it kicking in some of the worst conditions in the league.
Ex-Brown Scott Fujita quickly posted on Twitter: "The 49ers just got better on the field & in the locker room! Congrats to @phil_dawson_4! Good things happen to good people!"
Dawson joins a team that came within a few yards of winning the Super Bowl, a team with a young quarterback and a talented defense and 17 picks in April's draft.
The Browns could have given a guy who gave them everything he had a personal sendoff, something a little more than a statement.
They chose not to -- even with several local media in attendance at the league meetings.
Which happens, but in this case seems unfortunate.
The Browns will sign another kicker.
But Dawson will be missed.
He was a special Brown during a difficult 14 seasons.