Tough decisions loom for Browns on fan favorites

Phil Dawson-5Twenty-two combined seasons in Orange and Brown. Four Pro Bowls. Two fan favorites. Both free agents.

Cleveland fans love to hold on to their sports heroes. Josh Cribbs and Phil Dawson have been consistently the best things about Cleveland Browns football since the team returned in 1999.

Josh Cribbs walked on the team as an undrafted free agent after playing QB for Kent State in 2005. His counterpart from the University of Akron Charlie Frye, was a third round pick of the Browns that same year. Frye would start 18 games for the Browns before being traded to Seattle in 2007.

Phil Dawson is another undrafted player that found a home with the Browns after trying to stick with the Raiders and Patriots. Dawson is the only player that has been with the team from the return in 1999.

Both are fan favorites. Whether it was the hard work they put in to become top players at their positions or the way they embraced Cleveland and it’s fans, both are loved and would be missed if they weren’t with the team next year.

Josh Cribbs has said he would give a hometown discount in order to finish his career with the Browns. That still might not be enough for the new management to give him a contract. Vic Carucci hit the nail on the head with Cribbs-

“As noble as it might have been for Cribbs to say in the media he would be willing to take a pay cut to remain with the Browns, it doesn’t change the fact that the team’s decision-makers need to believe he holds enough value to maintain a valuable roster spot.”

Cribbs may be a legend when it comes to returning kicks, but is he the same returner? And is the return game even the same with the new rules? The fact remains Travis Benjamin is probably a better option than Cribbs as a returner. As a wide receiver, Cribbs isn’t a starter in the NFL. Could a creative coach find ways to get Cribbs the ball and be effective? At one time that was certainly true. Now? Not sure. The fact remains NFL roster spots are a big deal. If the Browns are to give one of those spots to Cribbs, he has to give them something that they can’t get from another player. Does Josh give them that?

After 14 seasons, Dawson is on top of his game. Not many players earn their first Pro Bowl birth at age 38. Obviously he plays a position that allows players to perform at a high level for a longer time. Dawson isn’t just a prolific kicker, he’s a prolific kicker in a stadium that isn’t easy to kick in.

Unfortunately, the Browns have already used the franchise tag on Dawson twice, which would mean they would have to pay him QB money to do so again. Will the Browns offer Dawson a multi-year deal? How much will Dawson ask for?

There is a good chance that the Browns will pass on both players.

Perhaps the fallout from not signing these two fan favorites won’t be as big as it would have been in the past. Browns fans realize the situation for the most part, and know that this new organization has no ties or real attachment to them.

If the Browns do open the wallet a little this off season and bring in a couple players the fans are excited about, it would certainly smooth over losing a couple of fan favorite special teamers.

  • AMC

    I know that we’ve talked about these guys from the perspective of whether the Browns want them back, but does anyone else out there get the vibe from Dawson that he’s ready to move on regardless of whether the Browns are? I certainly don’t hear him talking in the media about wanting to stay in Cleveland like Cribbs is doing. Tony Grossi tweeted something in the past 24 hours when a fan asked him why Holmgren didn’t offer Dawson a long-term extension. According to Grossi, Holmgren did offer such an extension but Dawson turned it down. I think that’s the first I’ve heard of that, so I’m not sure it’s true. Nevertheless, Dawson’s family lives in Texas full time now and he probably wants to go out playing for a winner.
    I’d be surprised if the Browns want to invest money in a 38 year old kicker (though I think they should), but I’d also be surprised if Dawson wants to come back.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I would be willing to take Cribbs up on his “hometown discount”. Make him a fair offer and see what happens.

    Dawson, however, needs to stay. He is money in the bank, and knows how to kick in our Stadium. This carries added importance if this team is seriously looking to take the next step and play meaningful football (or maybe even a playoff game) in Cleveland in bad weather. I will be thoroughly pissed if we let Dawson walk, and we need a clutch bad weather FG week 17 to make the playoffs, and the new guy misses. Pay the man.

  • JHop

    That last sentence is one of the truest I have ever read.

  • JHop

    If he does end up leaving I hope he heads for greener pastures and gets a chance to kick deep into the playoffs, showing off his skills to a national audience.

  • JHop

    If you think about where the Browns can realistically see themselves this season, it’s not going to be in the midst of any Super Bowl hunt. Assuming everything goes according to plan, the Browns could see themselves contending in 3-4 years. At that time, Dawson would be 41 and wouldn’t be at the top of his game. It makes more sense to draft a kicker (Dustin Hopkins anyone?) who will then develop into a high caliber kicker by the time our window opens. This would also allow the Browns to take the money now and invest in young(er) free agents this and next offseason.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Or we spend the money on players to get us in the end zone instead of just FG range.

  • @TheDeePagel

    And if he goes, he deserves the chance to play in a Super Bowl before he retires.

  • cribbs looked slow last year.
    plain and simple.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think the book on Cribbs at this point is: 1)He’ll give you 4 more yards to start your drive than the next guy. 2) He’s not going to break one and give you a TD or red zone field position.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Not sure how invested the Texans are in either Bullock or Shayne Graham, but it’d be great to see Dawson get to play for Houston, about a 2.5 hour drive from where his family lives in Austin, TX.

  • TSR3000

    Keeping Phil should roughly be priority #45 on the things to do list.

  • Bryan

    The best run organizations do not develop emotional attachments to “fan favorites.” I hope the new front office does not worry about fans’ emotions.

    Dawson would be great, but it doesn’t make sense to overpay for a Kicker. We should not overpay for him simply because people like him.

    Cribbs is past his prime. I would love to have him back, but all of his grandstanding in the press is likely not helping matters. If he wants to come back on a Special Teams salary and work hard only on Special Teams, I can see a role for him. Otherwise, he is probably gone.

  • mgbode

    Noone misses the kicker until the new guy misses a kick.

  • mgbode

    yeah, he’s still an effective KR because he is able to see the crease forming better than most, but he cannot get all the way through it.

    But, he’s no longer the PR or the coverage guy you want.

  • small sample size i grant, but travis benjamin was 50 yds per kickoff return. even so, my eyes tell me the same thing: benjamin’s better returner now.

    and that’s kinda the shame on cribbs: getting pigeon-holed as a returner. he’s a great tackler, but you get paid being a tackler in the d-backfield, not on special teams.

  • I loved seeing Cribbs and Dawson in the Browns uniform as much as the next Browns fan but we’re talking about two special teams players. While these guys have been a (only?) bright spot for the Browns since 1999, I can’t get too worked up about them leaving. At the end of the day I want to win, not hold on to guys that touch the field only a couple times a game.

  • Jaker

    Sign Cribbs, he’ll be worth the small price tag. With 53 million dollars available, 2 million or less for one player who provides WR depth, return man and one of the best special teamers in the league is a bargain! And he wants to be here? I feel like signing Cribbs is a no-brainer.

    Dawson needs to be signed. Period.

    Bring the two back, we have the money, no excuse for letting them go. We will still have plenty of money to sign another WR (Team Hartline), Pass rusher (Kruger?), and a corner and let’s not forget about the draft as well.

    Am I crazy or is this more difficult than I think?


    3.) He puts the ball on the ground a lot. For someone who gets most of his touches on his own side of the field he coughs up the rock more than any team can afford. Holding onto the ball is the #1 priority of a return in my opinion. For comparison sake, a few career numbers of the other highly regarded returners… Devin Hester – 4 fumbles, 1 lost… Leon Washington-6 fumbles, 4 lost…Pacman Jones – 12 fumbles, 1 lost

  • steve-o

    Off-season predictions;

    1) The decision not to re-sign any of our own free agents was already made months ago.
    2) So was the decision not to sign any high dollar free agents.
    3) We’re going to bring in a bunch of low dollar free agents who know our system and are pals with at least one coach or FO VIP.
    4) The always fun quotes about ‘building through the draft’ and ‘building the right way’ will drive us nuts as other teams get better overnight while ours becomes worse.
    5) At least one of our core players will be unexpectedly traded or released.
    6) There is a QB in this draft who we covet, but some other disaster of a team will get him first.
    7) We’ll try to patch a lot of holes through the draft and fail. Many leaks will remain.
    8) Undrafted FA’s will flock to the Brown’s training camp since several roster spots will be up for grabs.
    9) Weeden will win the ‘competition’ to be the starter.
    10) Over 1/3 of the 2012 roster will have changed by the 2013 opening kickoff.

  • mgbode

    it’s a slow Friday, so I’ll play:

    1. Any? Christian Yount (LS) is a virtual lock to re-sign. I also could see us re-signing the following guys, but only if we can get them at an acceptable rate: Phil Dawson, Ray Ventrone, Chris Ogbonnaya

    And who that is leaving will we miss? (answer: Sheldon Brown if he has another 2012 in him)

    2. What is high dollar? I think we have to go after some depth at OLB. I hope we sign a CB, S, and OG. I’d be shocked if any are higher than $10mil/year, but I could see us getting into the $7-8mil/year range for the right player.

    3. SD has alot of FAs whom would be nice to have (top of the list Louis Vasquez and Danario Alexander). It’s not a bad thing for your depth guys to know the system.

    4. There is no such thing as “better overnight.” And, I think we are getting close now. 5-6 down the stretch last year and we were no pushover in the first 5 while the ridiculously young offense was learning the ropes. The interesting portions will be if Weeden can improve and if our defense can transition.

    5. Defensive core players: Haden, Ward, DQ, Taylor, Rubin, Hughes, Winn

    Offensive core players: Thomas, Mack, Schwartz, Weeden, Richardson, Gordon, Little

    I’d be pretty shocked to see any get traded or released (I guess Weeden would be the most likely?)

    6. How will we know we covet a QB? Perhaps the Bills trade up to #1 for Geno? otherwise, we don’t have another pick until the 3rd round. Will be interested to see if we like the EJ Manuel range of QBs.

    7. Well, we only have 1 top50 pick. So, we cannot rely on getting more than ONE starter out of the draft unless we are drafting a kicker or punter.

    8. Sounds good. Plenty of gems in those bunches.

    9. If #6 is true, then who will he be competing against other than himself?

    10. I’ll take the over on that prediction. That’s only 17 guys. We are going to have more turnover than that with our draft picks and 18 FAs. And, pretty much all NFL teams turn over their depth guys.

    On the starters, we have holes at the following spots:

    OG, TE, WR3, FB (and depending on your thoughts – QB)
    OLB, ILB, S, CB2

    8/22 starting spots up for grabs in my opinion. Also 1/3. And that is the more troubling thing.

  • Jaker

    Hardly a prediction when that’s exactly what happens every offseason. Although, I am intrigued by #s 3, 5, and 6. Any idea on who they might be?

  • NoVA Buckeye

    I seem to recall that in the beginning of the Jerry Jones era in Dallas, the Cowboys fans were worked up about getting rid of fan favorites, but it ended up working out well for the Cowboys.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I will agree that it shouldn’t be at the top of the list, but it should be important enough that it gets done if Phil wants to stay. Just my opinion.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I guess I don’t see why we can’t keep Dawson AND upgrade the offense. They aren’t mutually exclusive. When you have a top 5 player in the league at a position you should probably try to keep him. Even is it is a kicker.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Agreed. Would love to see Phil get a shot at a ring.

  • woofersus

    I’m not sure I think losing Cribbs would be that much of a loss. He is still a very good kick returner, but he’ll be a little slower every year, and the dropoff with his replacement won’t be all that much. Just because we can afford him doesn’t mean that’s where we should spend the money. The new regime has made it clear that they will continue the draft-emphasized youth movement approach of the last few years, which means they might want that roster spot for a draft pick with upside, and they won’t go out of their way to retain anybody who won’t be a core component beyond a year or two. I don’t really expect him back.

    With Dawson, they can’t franchise him again, so he’d have to want to be back, first of all. If he isn’t sold on the team’s ability to get better soon he’ll surely walk. He wants to win and hasn’t been shy about saying so. Plus, the price may fairly high as I’m sure there’s a contender with a questionable kicking game who would covet a guy like that. That said, I’d like to see the browns make a bid for him. Even if we’re competitive soon, we won’t be blowing people out, and field goals will matter. He’ll probably remain very good for the duration of a 5 year contract, and a replacement may not be all that easy to come by. Seems like a worthwhile investment.

  • zonk

    Sure, right after firing Banner and his over-inflated ego. Just because he built a championship team selecting players in Madden ’12 does not mean he will do it here.

  • he will be kicking in SF…..