Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns decide to embrace the unpredictable at kicking position

browns billy cundiffThe Cleveland Browns, apparently deciding that predictability at the kicking position is for chumps, signed veteran place kicker Billy Cundiff to a contract on Tuesday.

Cundiff was a Pro Bowl kicker back in 2010, for what that honor is worth, after making 26-of-29 field goals for Baltimore. But things definitely took a turn for the worse once he returned from Hawaii.

In 2011, he missed nine field goals in the regular season before famously missing a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship Game into overtime.

The Ravens released him after that season and he bounced around between San Francisco (where he did not attempt a kick) to Washington (where was just seven-of-12) before being released.

For his career, Cundiff has made just 75 percent of his field goals and has only converted more than 80 percent in a single season once. By comparison, Phil Dawson, the kicker that Cundiff is replacing, has made 84 percent of his field goals in his career and has converted less than 80 percent just once since 2002 – and that was seven years ago.

And that is the biggest problem – Billy Cundiff is not Phil Dawson.

We don’t see any point in hammering the current regime for not keeping Dawson on the roster. It takes two sides to reach an agreement and the contract issues with Dawson predate the arrival of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi in Berea.

But that doesn’t mean the Browns couldn’t have done a better job of finding a suitable replacement for Dawson once he left for San Francisco in free agency. It was going to be difficult enough being the player that replaced Dawson; trying to replace him with a kicker that at his best is average and has been on the decline for the past couple of years just doesn’t make much sense.

As we wrote back in March, we’ve been down this road before with the Browns. Once upon a time, it was the team picking Jerry Kauric over Matt Bahr; now it’s Cundiff instead of Dawson. (Interesting that the other constant in these scenarios, besides involving kickers, is that Lombardi was a member of the Browns front office both times.)

We would advise anyone thinking of buying a Cundiff jersey to hold off for a bit (unless for some reason you still have one from when he was with the Browns for five games in 2009); we have a feeling that the Browns will be holding at least one more tryout for a kicker before the 2013 NFL season comes to a close.

But don’t despair, Browns fans, there are a couple of bright spots in this.

As much as we enjoyed having Dawson on the team, his reliability became a handicap for the coaching staff. Too often the play calling would become overly conservative once the Browns offense would get inside the opposing team’s 40-yard line because the coaches knew they could always count on Dawson.

But Cundiff is only five-of-21 in his career on field goals longer than 50 yards, so now we won’t have to worry about conservative play calling. So get ready, Browns fans, to feast on a more aggressive approach from the offense this year.

More importantly, Cundiff’s biggest miss came during a playoff game, but we doubt he will be missing any playoff kicks this season.

Because, well, you know why.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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