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A look at the Browns' never-ending search for a kicker

In this Dec. 9, 2012, file photo Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson (4) kicks a field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL football game in Cleveland. Dawson is the last Browns kicker to last more than two seasons in the position.
Rick Osentoski
Phil Dawson, the last reliable kicker the Cleveland Browns had, kicks a field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL football game in Cleveland in 2012, his last season as a Brown. Dawson retired from the NFL in 2019 after 20 seasons.

The Browns this week cut their highly touted young kicker Cade York, a fourth-round draft choice last year, and traded for veteran kicker Dustin Hopkins. It’s the latest shakeup for the team in its ongoing search for a reliable kicker. They’ve cycled through about a dozen of them since 2012.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said the team had high hopes for York.

“He was considered by far the best kicker in the 2022 draft. And they're thinking, do they finally have somebody to replace the great Phil Dawson?” Pluto said.

Dawson was the Browns kicker from 1999-2012, and holds the franchise record for most field goals made, passing Hall of Famer Lou Groza in 2010.

Pluto called York’s rookie season “mediocre at best.” York further declined this preseason, he said.

“He came in to training camp this year and they were going to go with him again. He was fine in practice when nobody was rushing or doing anything, but in the preseason games, he was missing everything,” Pluto said.

Pluto said it’s an example of how tough being an NFL kicker can be.

“It's a weird job because, all right, you come in to kick an extra point or field goal. You've been standing there waiting. You know, it's not like if you're on offense, you know, you're playing half the game, or on defense. And as you come in, everything stops. Everybody's looking at you and you're thinking, ‘I've got less than two seconds from when the center snaps the ball to the holder for me to kick it.' And next thing you know, you're missing the field goal. On top of it, the feeling in football is, 'We'll just go get another kicker,'” Pluto said.

Pluto said NFL kickers have to be near perfect in order to keep their jobs.

“The average NFL kicker right now makes 85% of his kicks. Nine of them made over 90%. Cade York making 75% was considered near the bottom. So, do you see how high the expectations are? You should just make every kick,” Pluto said.

This week the Browns traded for kicker Dustin Hopkins, who's been in the league for the last decade and most recently played for the L.A. Chargers.

“He had lost his job with the Chargers because last year he opened as their kicker. He was doing very well. He hurt his hamstring. They had a young kicker that came, the guy made 19 out of 20 field goals. So, then they went into camp this year and kind of had them battling with each other. They went with the kid partly because he was cheaper,” Pluto said.

Pluto said Hopkins has an 85% success rate on his kicks, which is slightly above the NFL average.

York can learn, Pluto said, from looking at Hopkins’ NFL journey.

“He was drafted in 2013 by Buffalo and was cut. (In) 2014, he was picked up by New Orleans and was cut. In 2015, he went to camp with Washington, he made the team, then has been a steady kicker in the NFL ever since," Pluto said. "And we talk about Phil Dawson, ‘99 till 2012. He was cut three times the year before he came to the Browns by three different teams. So, it seems like most of these guys, if you look at their background when they're younger, it takes a while to learn how to handle the pressure and the different parts of the NFL, and a lot of them are cut before they figure it out. It's a hard job and it's one that people have little patience with."

Pluto said given Hopkins’ history of injuries, he’s hopeful the Browns bring in another young kicker for the practice squad as a backup.

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