Cleveland Browns: Billy Cundiff

A mid-January rundown on the Cleveland Browns six upcoming unrestricted free agents, with the proviso that much can change in the next six weeks in terms of signing and re-signing players (with 2012 salary cap costs are in parantheses):
  • RB Willis McGahee ($489,000) -- Age has sadly crept up on McGahee, who gave everything he had but in the final couple games was replaced by Edwin Baker. McGahee is a character who would play well in a lot of cities, but his best days on the field seem behind him.
  • C Alex Mack ($5.03 million) -- It would seem that replacing a Pro Bowl center is not easy, but Mack is from California and the vibes as the season went on were that he would not be back. The team never made much of a move to re-sign him, and Joe Banner believes in paying certain amounts for certain positions. Center might not be a position where he wants to spend.
  • G Shawn Lauvao ($1.497 M) -- Lauvao seems like a guy who could be a serviceable guard, but the Browns seemed to sour on him as the year went on. Their machinations indicate Lauvao is not a priority.
  • G/T Oniel Cousins ($800,000) -- Good guy, interesting guy. Every team needs a guy like this, a guy who can step in and play in several spots. It does not seem Cousins will be filling that role in Cleveland any longer, though.
  • S T.J. Ward ($1.198 M) -- Ward is an enviable spot. He’s a Pro Bowl alternate whose physical style might fit well with several teams. San Francisco jumps out as one, and Ward might enjoy playing where he attended college. Ward does like Cleveland, though, so if the Browns make him a competitive offer he may return. But Joe Banner did not re-sign Brian Dawkins in Philadelphia. Dawkins was older than Ward and had less left, but it might indicate safety is not considered an “expensive” position.
  • PK Billy Cundiff ($555,000) -- The Browns showed how they value kickers when they let Phil Dawson walk a year ago.
The Browns are projected to have between $35 and $40 million in salary cap space this offseason.
It’s almost the ultimate Cleveland tale -- after A Christmas Story of course.

Longtime kicker who works for years in losing and tough seasons leaves and winds up making the game-winning kick in miserable conditions for his new team.

Good for Phil Dawson, a guy whose popularity and standing with the fans in Cleveland remains strong despite the fact he left the Browns.

That’s what happens when a guy gives 14 years of his professional life to largely losing causes yet never loses his professionalism and approach. Dawson was the most dependable player on the Browns during his 14-year tenure, and yes he hated losing.

At one point when a player complained after a losing season that he’d like to be able to do more when the teams go on the road, Dawson said the only thing he wanted to change was win -- that he’d practice naked if they told him if it meant the team won.

Not a pretty image, but the point was clear. And it came from the same guy who finished a game in Cleveland kicking with a broken arm.

Dawson left the Browns this season and signed with San Francisco, where he had another outstanding season. He made 32-of-36 kicks, including 32 of his last 33 and a franchise-record 27 in a row.

He had the second-most points and field goals in 49ers history and won the playoff game with a 33-yard kick in minus-10 degree wind chill.

“I’ve waited a long time to win a playoff game,” Dawson told the media after the game. “And I finally got to do it and it was worth the wait.”

He then credited the rest of the team for giving him a chance to win it. Typical. Dawson is a guy who understands his role, is always ready and never gets too carried away with himself.

Viewers on FOX may have been surprised near the end of the game when a sideline report quoted Dawson saying there was no range, that the conditions made any kick difficult. (Don Cockroft could explain a few things about having to kick in those conditions as well.)

Dawson merely was doing what he always has done: Tell the truth.

The conditions were miserable, and he had to block it out and make the kick. He did -- even putting it between the arms of a diving Packers defender (who was offside).

Dawson is 38, but he seems to get better and stronger the longer he kicks. He made four-of-six from 50 yards or more this season; the last three seasons he’s made 18-of-21 from that distance.

The Browns decision to let Dawson go was never fully explained, but in the end he wound up in a great city with a playoff team and the Browns wound up with Billy Cundiff, who had a good season.

Dawson still ranks as the Browns career leader in field-goal percentage (minimum 100 kicks) and has more field goals made than anyone in team history. He also ranks second in points in team history, behind Lou Groza, whom Dawson always respected greatly.

Dawson may have left and found his playoff success elsewhere, but at some point he should return to Cleveland.

On the day when the Browns put his name in the team’s Ring of Honor.
The Cleveland Browns remain in good standing on the injury front.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden practiced Tuesday, working with gloves on both hands in the part of practice open to the media.

Whether Weeden is the backup or No. 3 Thursday night against Buffalo will be determined by how he looks in practice, said coach Rob Chudzinski. Weeden missed the last two games -- and probably lost his starting job -- to a sprained thumb.

Brian Hoyer will make his third start, ostensibly because it’s a short week but in reality because Hoyer has played too well not to start.

Three players are not expected to play: Outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves and defensive lineman Billy Winn. Sheard (sprained knee) and Winn (quad) were not working, and Groves (ankle) was riding the proverbial stationary bike.

Winn’s absence will be minimized by the Browns' depth on the defensive front. Sheard’s absence against Cincinnati allowed first-round pick Barkevious Mingo to open eyes with a very strong first start.

Place-kicker Billy Cundiff is dealing with a thigh strain. He missed two field goals in the win over Cincinnati. Chudzinski said he would see how Cundiff kicks in practice before making any decision regarding that position.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 4

September, 30, 2013
A weekly examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Cameron crazies. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer may be the feel-good story in Cleveland right now, but he'll be the first to tell you the dream season he's currently experiencing wouldn't be taking shape if it wasn't for his big tight end, Jordan Cameron. In the two games Hoyer has started, Cameron has caught 16 passes and four touchdowns. During Hoyer's homecoming Sunday, his first career start in the stadium he attended games as a teenager, Cameron hauled in 10 passes and went up high and brought down a fade in the end zone. As the season continues, still possibly with Hoyer behind center, football fans across the country will learn more about Cameron. In that respect, before you know it, there might be a new kind of Cameron crazies.

[+] EnlargeJoe Haden
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesCleveland's Joe Haden (23) made life difficult Sunday for Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green.
2. Some good, some bad. The middle two quarters Buster Skrine played Sunday likely left some Browns fans scratching their heads and screaming at their TVs wondering if and when he might be replaced. In the fourth quarter, though, that all changed when Skrine read the high tip off a mishandled Andy Dalton pass and dived to snag the game's only interception. When the defensive back grabbed the ball out of the air with 3:43 remaining in the game, he effectively ended the contest. Even though the Bengals ended up getting the ball back one more time, they would have needed to score on that possession and another with time expiring in order to pull off a comeback. Along with the interception, Skrine had a pair of tackles and broke up three passes, including one that came on a pivotal third-quarter third down. He also had penalties for pass interference and unnecessary roughness that could have cost the Browns. Cincinnati, however, was unable to take advantage of either.

3. Efficient red zone play. Cleveland had to be encouraged by its play inside the Bengals' 20. Only once in three trips did the Browns not convert a red zone possession into a score. The lone failed red zone conversion came early in the second quarter, when kicker Billy Cundiff missed his first of two field goals. The other two drives ended in goal-to-go territory and resulted in passing touchdowns to Cameron and running back Chris Ogbonnaya.

4. Haden halts Green. Browns cornerback Joe Haden and Bengals receiver A.J. Green have been going against one another since they were in college playing in the SEC at Florida and Georgia, respectively. By now, they know each other's tendencies and nuances. In this latest matchup, though, it was Haden who got the better of Green, locking him down and making it difficult for Dalton to complete passes in Green's direction. When Haden wasn't batting away one of his two passes, he was typically right in Green's face, forcing an overthrow, or hitting him as soon as he caught the ball, limiting Green's yards after the catch. Targeted 14 times, Green caught seven passes for just 51 yards.
A look at what's happening on the Cleveland Browns beat:
  • Quarterback Brandon Weeden didn't sugarcoat what it means not having No. 1 wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is suspended for the first two games. "I'm not going to lie -- it hurts," Weeden said, via The Plain Dealer. "He's a talented player. He's a guy that we're going to rely on for the 14 games after he comes back to be a big emphasis in this offense. But that being said, my confidence in the other guys who are going to step in there is just as high. They're great players, have a lot of ability and they're going to do a lot of things to help us win. It's not an ideal situation, but I've got a lot of confidence in the guys that are taking his spot."
  • Billy Cundiff believes there is a positive in replacing a kicking icon like Phil Dawson. He's familiar with the situation, being the kicker to replace Matt Stover in Baltimore when others had failed. “I think it’s a good thing to come in after a guy who’s played at such a high level, because the bar’s set really high and you've got to bring your game up,” Cundiff said, via ESPN Radio in Cleveland.
  • Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo was limited again during practice Wednesday as he continues to recover from a bruised lung, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle) has been declared out. Defensive end Desmond Bryant (back) was limited in practice.
  • Cornerback Joe Haden said there's a reason why he's optimistic about the season. “Just the talent of the players that we have in the locker room is better than we’ve had before,” Haden told the team's website.
Here is what's happening on the Cleveland Browns' beat:
  • To make room for new kicker Billy Cundiff, the Browns placed guard Jason Pinkston on the injured reserve-designated to return list. Pinkston, who injured his ankle Aug. 15 against Detroit, is eligible to play as early as the week of the Browns’ game vs. Baltimore (Nov. 3). Here's the story in The Plain Dealer about the move.
  • So, why didn't the Browns pay kicker Phil Dawson what he wanted to stay? Vic Carucci of the team's website explains: "The short answer is that, philosophically, that was not in line with the business plan that chief executive officer Joe Banner and the rest of the team’s management put in place upon their arrival. A heavy investment in a kicker might make sense for a team, such as the 49ers, that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender and looking to fill a few holes. For a team like the Browns, who are in the early phases of trying to build that kind of a squad, it doesn’t." For the record, Dawson is earning $1.51 million more than Cundiff.
  • The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw believes fans can learn a lot about what to expect from the Browns from their kicker situation. "This kicker quandry is not the smell of losing in the air, just the whiff of a team that’s not built to win this season and knows it," Shaw wrote.
  • Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo will undergo further medical testing this week to determine whether the first-round pick will be able to play in Sunday's regular-season opener, Banner told The Akron Beacon Journal.
The Cleveland Browns are going with Billy Cundiff as their kicker, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Browns have made several good moves to improve the team this year, but the new regime mishandled their kicking situation.

I didn't understand why the Browns didn't re-sign Pro Bowl kicker Phil Dawson in free agency. The two kickers (Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay) that the Browns brought in this offseason, and subsequently cut, were a downgrade from Dawson. And the same goes with Cundiff, who hasn't been the same since that crushing miss in the AFC Championship Game 21 months ago.

The new decision-makers for the Browns have turned a position of strength into one of weakness. The belief is the new regime wanted a fresh start, and Dawson represented one of the faces of the expansion-era Browns. But this team would have more stability with Dawson. The Browns have over $25 million in salary-cap space and only needed to give Dawson a one-year, $2.35 million contract (what he received from the San Francisco 49ers) to keep him. And, if the Browns were intent on parting ways with Dawson, they should've invested a draft pick in a young kicker.

What you like about the addition of Cundiff is his familiarity with the tricky weather of the AFC North. He kicked for the Browns for five games in 2009 and played for the Baltimore Ravens for 2 1/2 seasons. Cundiff, 33, was a Pro Bowl kicker in 2010 before his career derailed a year later.

After missing nine field goals in the 2011 regular season, Cundiff hooked a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds that would have tied the AFC Championship Game. Cundiff was cut by the Ravens the next season, and he was released by the Washington Redskins in 2012 after missing five of his 12 field goal attempts (58.3 percent success rate). He is now on his fourth team in two seasons.

So, in the end, the Browns have gone from a Pro Bowl kicker in Dawson to a journeyman in Cundiff.
Here is what's happening on the Cleveland Browns beat:
  • Billy Cundiff is the frontrunner to win Tuesday's kicker tryout, according to The Plain Dealer. His chief competition for the job, Dan Carpenter, decided to sign with the Buffalo Bills on Monday. Italian-born Giorgio Tavecchio, who was cut last week by the Packers, will also be at the tryout.
  • Rookie first-round pick Barkevious Mingo returned to practice for the first time Monday since suffering a bruised lung in the second preseason game on Aug. 15, according to ESPN Radio in Cleveland.
  • Running back Trent Richardson knows he has to carry the load because he has two inexperienced backups, the Akron Beacon Journal reports.
  • Fair or not, there's plenty at stake for the opener for the Browns, Vic Carucci of the team's website writes.
The Cleveland Browns will eventually add a kicker to their roster, and it looks like Tuesday will be the day.

Billy Cundiff and Dan Carpenter are among the kickers who will try out for the Browns on Tuesday, according to The Plain Dealer. Both were most recently cut by the New York Jets, who went with Nick Folk.

Cundiff has experience kicking in the AFC North, having previously played for the Ravens and Browns. But he hasn't been the same since missing a field goal in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.

Carpenter spent the past five seasons with the Miami Dolphins, making 81.9 percent of his field goals. He's been cut by three teams (Dolphins, Cardinals and Jets) over the past 19 days.

As ESPN Radio in Cleveland pointed out, other free-agent kickers include Justin Medlock, Olindo Mare and Neil Rackers. The Browns have been without a kicker on their roster since cutting Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay on Saturday.