For the first time since the franchise re-formed in 1999, the Browns need a kicker. Options are certainly available, both in free agency and the draft as well as in the eventual pool of undrafted free agents (that's where the Baltimore Ravens found their kicking phenom, Justin Tucker, last year).
Let's take a look at veterans and soon-to-be rookies whom the Browns could bring on to take the place of the seemingly irreplaceable Dawson, who made an impressive 84.9 percent of his kicks at home (compared to just 76.6 percent for visiting kickers) and who made 93.5 percent of all of his field-goal attempts in 2012.
Free Agent: David Akers
Despite his abysmal 69 percent field-goal make percentage in 2012, free-agent kicker David Akers is still an excellent option for the Browns if they want to bring a veteran into the fold. Despite his poor 2012 showing—which was his worst season save 1999, when he made only three of his six attempts—he's made 81 percent of his career field-goal attempts as well as 98.9 percent of his point-after tries.
With Dawson making 84 percent of his field goals over the course of his career, Akers would be a fairly lateral move for the Browns, provided that his case of the yips last season was a one-year occurrence and not indicative of a trend for his future.
The Browns seem to want to get younger, however, and the 38-year-old Akers certainly does not fit that mold, considering he and Dawson are the same age. And his 2012 season won't be easy to erase—not in Akers' mind nor in the minds of the Browns fanbase or front office. Akers, therefore, probably isn't the direction the Browns want to go.
Draft Prospect: Caleb Sturgis, Florida
There's nothing wrong with using a draft pick on a kicker if he's good enough, and when it comes to this year's draft class, Florida's Caleb Sturgis most certainly is.
To be a successful kicker in Cleveland, one must have a strong leg and straight-ahead accuracy to battle the often windy—and cold—environment of the stadium. Sturgis has shown the ability to make repeated kicks of 50 or more yards and has missed just four field goals per season in 2011 and 2012, impressive numbers for a college player.
The issue is that Sturgis missed most of 2010 and one game in 2011 with injuries. Though he stayed healthy in 2012, it is a concern. It shouldn't be enough for him to go undrafted, however. The Browns would be in play to grab him in Rounds 5 or Round 6, provided that no other kicker-needy team picks him up before Cleveland gets a chance.
Free Agent: Steven Hauschka
If the Browns want to pick up a veteran kicker who is younger than Akers and carries with him considerably less risk, journeyman Steven Hauschka can likely be had at an affordable price. With five years in the league, Hauschka is experienced, but he's also still young and, if he's the right fit, could stick around in Cleveland for more than just a season or two.
Hauschka spent two years in Baltimore with the Ravens before heading to the Denver Broncos for one season and finally landing with the Seattle Seahawks for his last two seasons. He's made 82.3 percent of all of his field-goal attempts during his career and 88.9 percent last year, with just three misses, all of which were on attempts of 50 yards or longer.
His long-ball issues aside (he's attempted just 10 field goals of 50 or more yards, making four), Hauschka is otherwise very accurate. If the Browns think he has the leg strength to make his kicks consistently, then he certainly could be paying them a visit in the coming weeks.
Draft Prospect: Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
Another draft option for the Browns could be Florida State's Dustin Hopkins. Like Caleb Sturgis, Hopkins has shown the ability to make 50-plus-yard field goals, including five out of six attempts in the 2012 season.
Hopkins made 76 percent of his field-goal attempts in college, with his accuracy increasing exponentially every year. Though he missed four extra-point attempts in his freshman year, he missed only one in his next three years. He's an ever-improving kicker who may just be an even better fit in Cleveland than Sturgis.