Zac Jackson: Extend Dawson Now

The Browns have a great opportunity to show their support for talent and loyalty.

BEREA, Ohio -- As the Browns continue to a prepare for a season they hope will provide them more than a couple long-term answers, one is already on the roster.

Been there, done that, maybe having his best camp yet and still working quietly, efficiently and effectively.

Phil Dawson.

It's past time for Dawson -- the only kicker the New Browns have ever known -- to get a contract. One that will keep him in Cleveland past this season, after which his current deal expires. One that will reward him for his years of being a pro's pro, team captain and consistent producer. One that will send a message to the rest of the locker room that good guys who work to remain good players are the guys that will win out and be around for the long haul.

This has little to do with the 59-yard bomb Dawson hit to tie the Browns' soon-to-be-forgotten but still encouraging preseason opener. It has little to do with the game-winner he drilled a few minutes later, though he admitted that was nice.

"Nobody wanted to play overtime," Dawson said. "That includes the Packers."

No diehard Browns fan wants to think about Dawson ever kicking for another team. So Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert should act sooner -- say, now, while the push to build buzz and sell tickets this year is still going -- than later in making that happen. Dawson's ready to listen.

Not that he'll say that. Dawson is a team-first, team business-first guy. The last two springs he's stayed away from the OTAs and such, and immediately upon his return he's been greeted by an army of microphones providing a platform to boost himself and put down the Browns -- whoever the decision-makers were at that point -- for not giving him a new deal. Instead he's said he prefers to talk about football, about perfecting his craft, about remembering his humble NFL roots, about wanting to win and make kicks that win the biggest games.

Cliche as it sounds, his foot does the talking.

"First of all, anybody who plays 12 years in the NFL is doing lots of things right," veteran defensive tackle Robaire Smith said of Dawson. "He's a great kicker, great person, great teammate. Nobody says he's just a kicker. He's been a leader, a really good player and a guy who has respect because he earns it. Why is he still here after a hundred changes and all these years? Because he's darn good at his job."

Way back in 1999, Dawson won the kicking job for the expansion Browns but still had to wonder each week if he'd keep the job; the team routinely brought in more experienced kickers for mid-week tryouts. He's held the job through different coaches, different special teams coaches, different general managers and different circumstances. He was once a young guy from Texas who played tackle and linebacker in high school but worked on his kicking so he could keep playing. He's now a veteran who's kicked in more snow than most Texans have ever seen and made enough of them to rank among the NFL's 10 most accurate kickers ever.

He's 35 and lives here year-round. He's a father of three fast-growing kids, an established vet and respected enough that Colt McCoy called him "Mr. Dawson" when the two bumped into one another in Texas last year. He didn't lose any sleep over that, but he did feel old when a youngster visiting camp this summer pulled a Texas helmet away from him just before signing it because "he only wanted Texas Longhorns to sign it. His parents were in middle school when I played there."

The tape -- and his performance this summer -- would indicate he's got plenty of life left in that right leg, certainly enough to significantly build on the 12 game-winners he's already delivered.

"The guy kicks in blizzards and makes it look easy," Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. "If he's not the best cold-weather kicker in the league he's in that top echelon and has been for a long time. It's easy here in August, maybe not as easy as he makes a lot of them look, but still easier to make those long ones when the sun is shining, but he's Mr. Automatic all year long.

"He's a true football player and all the guys respect him. It's not my place to say who gets paid, but that's the type of guy who deserves it."

Dawson held his tongue as Butch Davis bumbled through his last two seasons as Browns coach. He never spoke out when Romeo Crennel sent him to kick field goals in situations when the Browns needed touchdowns. He's a guy that stands up in meetings and talks to the young players -- not down to them -- about doing the little things right, making the right decisions off the field, putting the team first.

He's a guy the Browns need. And not just this year, but in the next few. When the hope is they'll finally be playing in the games Dawson's been waiting for.

"When there are changes up top, the new people bring in their own guys and their own ideas," Thomas said. "The only guys they can't change are the irreplaceable ones. That's what Phil Dawson is."

Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson, and check out his reports on all of Cleveland's sports teams on!

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