Browns franchise Dawson, Hillis likely gone

By placing another franchise tag on place kicker Phil Dawson, it means the Browns may be in market for a running back.

The Cleveland Browns have placed the franchise tag on placekicker Phil Dawson for the second year in a row.

Which means the Browns are still at the point that their kicker is one of the better and more professional players on the roster.

It also means running back should be added to the team's list of offseason needs. Because with Dawson franchised, it almost surely increases the likelihood that Peyton Hillis will not be back.

Look for Hillis to test the open market and sign elsewhere. Because if the Browns badly wanted Hillis to stay, they'd have used the franchise tag on him instead of Dawson. Without the tag, he now will be free to pursue the riches he believes he can find on the market.

The reality of the situation simply points to Hillis' departure. The Browns started free agency with three bigger name players heading for the market.

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson signed a contract extension.

Dawson was given the franchise tag (which puts his salary at $3.8 million).

Hillis got nothing. Though he did split with his third agent shortly after the NFL Scouting Combine. And then he was the subject of a report that he had pondered retiring last season to join the CIA. Soon Hillis will board his own spaceship and float off into the stratosphere.

Of course it's possible Hillis returns. Because anything can happen. It just does not seem likely at this point.

The Browns have Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnoya on the roster. The most prominent free-agent running backs — Matt Forte of Chicago and Ray Rice of Baltimore — will or have been franchised. That leaves the Browns pondering guys like Michael Bush of Oakland, or someone of that level.

It also brings into play the drafting of Trent Richardson of Alabama — if the Browns decide not to trade up for quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor. Richardson is the best back available — and perhaps the only one worthy of the first round.

That being said, many teams find backs in the lower rounds. With running backs having shorter careers, they can be found in the middle rounds or even outside the draft, as Houston did with Arian Foster.

Dawson has been one of the league's best and most underrated kickers for years, and he's done it kicking in some of the worst conditions. He had an outstanding 2011 season, making 24 of 29 field-goal attempts, with two of his misses coming because of bad snaps that led to the release of his longtime snapper. He also kicked seven field goals longer than 50 yards, tied for the league best.

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