You might not agree with it, but one can understand if the Cleveland Browns wanted to draft a kicker and go young at that position. Phil Dawson, the longtime kicker of the expansion era Browns, is 38 years old.
What's hard to rationalize is the Browns signing veteran kicker Shayne Graham on Monday. Over the past four seasons, Dawson has topped Graham in field-goal percentage, touchback percentage and accuracy on long kicks.
The Browns really didn't get much younger. Graham, who is now the front-runner to beat out Brandon Bogotay for the job, is 35 and just three years younger than Dawson. The biggest difference between the two is salary. Graham signed for the veteran minimum of $940,000, which is $1.41 million less than what Dawson got in San Francisco. But money shouldn't be a problem for the Browns, who have more than $25 million in salary-cap room.
This isn't a horrible move by the Browns. Graham set a Texans’ scoring record last season with 138 points. He has experience dealing with the weather of the AFC North after seven seasons with the Bengals and a short stint with the Ravens. He is the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history. He also has converted 93.4 percent of his career field goals inside 40 yards.
But this is a questionable move by the Browns. Cleveland had a Pro Bowl kicker in Dawson. He knew how to succeed at Cleveland Browns Stadium despite the challenges of the lakefront winds, and was nearly automatic over 50 yards the past couple of seasons. It would've cost less to keep him this year than last (the Browns paid Dawson $3.81 million in 2012). And, as I pointed out earlier, it's hard to debate value when a team has more cap room than nearly every other team in the league.
So, the Browns go from the one constant they have had since returning to the league to a journeyman. Graham has played for five teams (the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans) since a seven-year run with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-09. A kicker who once received the franchise tag from the Bengals, Graham wasn't re-signed in 2010 after missing two field goals in a playoff loss to the Jets, including a 28-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter. Some Bengals fans nicknamed him "Shank" Graham.
It was expected that the Browns would undergo change with the new regime headed by chief executive officer Joe Banner. But it's hard to argue that the change at kicker makes a lot of sense.