The Cleveland Browns have had some really great kickers throughout their storied history.
Phil Dawson from 1999 to 2012 leads the way. Lou “the Toe” Groza (1946-1959, 1961-1967) was the franchise’s leading kicker until Dawson broke his records.
Matt Stover (1991-1995) had a great beginning to his career kicking near Lake Erie before the franchise up and moved to Baltimore, and then Stover was one of that new club’s best players. Today, Stover is listed in the Ravens Ring of Honor and owns three Super Bowl rings. Matt Bahr had some very good scoring years in Cleveland from 1981-1989 before winning two Super Bowls with the New York Football Giants.
What do all of these legendary Browns kickers have in common? None of them were drafted by the Browns.
In recent years, poor kicking experiences have driven the club to draft a kicker in the hopes that the talent level is better if you draft a highly-productive kid that did very well in the college ranks.
Most recently was Austin Seibert in 2019 out of Oklahoma taken in the fifth round, and Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez came to Cleveland in the 2017 draft in the seventh round.
Both players were heralded as one of the best. Gonzalez had won the Groza Award, was an Unanimous All-American plus was First Team All-Pac 12 two years in a row. He also kicked three 50-yard plus field goals in a single game with tied the NCAA record. Seibert broke the career points record by a kicker by amassing 499 points in his four years. He was also named First Team All-Big 12 plus selected as the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
After rocky rookie campaigns, both were released early in their second season. For the Browns, all of those college accolades meant little kicking off those Lake Erie winds and the other cold-weather outdoor stadiums housed in the AFC North division.
Then in 2022, Cleveland took Cade York out of LSU in Round 4. Yeh, just another drafted Browns kicker who is struggling.
Usually, clubs will bring in competition for both the punter and kicker every training camp. GM Andrew Berry had re-signed punter Joseph Charlton back in May despite the coaching staff being very satisfied with starting punter Corey Bojorquez. In 2022 heading into training camp, the Browns had veteran kicker Chase McLaughlin along with the youngster K Chris Blewitt. Three days after Berry drafted York in the NFL draft, both of these kickers were released.
York has had no other kicker in training camp in both seasons. Each day, he knows the job is his. In two preseason games so far, York has missed a field goal in both exhibition games including his first attempt of the 2023 season. Then his second.
Both were wide right. York is currently 0-2, and it’s only preseason. It’s not like these kicks were from 55+ and considered long shots to convert. A 49-yarder and a 46-yard attempt are makeable for every kicker. What is strange is that York is making kicks with ease in practice.
Do the Browns have a Cade York problem?
At the beginning of training camp, when asked at a press conference about why York did not have any competition in camp, head coach Kevin Stefanski stated after the Day 3 practice:
“Cade is going into this second year and will get every rep. That is so important for young players. He competes against himself every day. I know you might say he is not being challenged, but all of us if we are doing our job are competing.”
Is this by design to have one kicker in camp, who is competing against himself? What?
And now, after a rough rookie year, two misses out of two field goal attempts, the Browns are insisting they believe in York as their kicker. Remember last year York was 24 of 32 field goal tries and cost Cleveland several games like against the Los Angeles Chargers where he missed two kicks and the Browns lost by two points.
“It’s a small sample size. Cade’s working very hard just like the rest of our team is. It’s preseason football for all of us. None of us are ready to play or coach any in that first game just yet. So we’re working through it.”
“.....working through it” will only last less than four more weeks. Then it is “go time” in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals on September 10.
Now that the Browns have established that the issues with York from last year have been resolved, it would be good to have healthy competition for the remainder of camp as this helps both kickers.
Cade York’s 46-yard field goal wide right with 8:42 to play in the 3rd Q. Time to call a kicker. #Browns— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) August 12, 2023
But so far, Stefanski has stated that keeping York as the lone kicker in camp has not changed.
There is no doubt that York has a powerful leg and all the tools necessary for a kicker to be successful at this level. He was incredible in college. The big question is how is York handling the mental pressures of the game knowing the next one might make him 0-3 so far this year?
Maybe it’s just a case of the yips. Or perhaps it’s an issue with Bojorquez that nobody seems to be talking about: his holder duties.
Bojo had a lot of issues holding for Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby during the cold weather months while in Wisconsin. In fact, he was horrible. Crosby’s field goal completion percentage dropped from 100% for the 2021 season to 73.5% with Bojorquez as his holder.
Before Green Bay, he was the punter in Buffalo. The kicker when he arrived was Stephen Hauschka. In 2017, Hauschka had an 87.9 completion percentage. The following year with Bojorquez as his holder that dropped to 78.6% for two consecutive years.
That in itself may be a very huge problem and just may be one of York’s issues.
Stefanski believes his kicker can handle this important aspect. He explained:
“Cade’s got the makeup for that role. As you know, he works very hard at his craft. It’s also part of being a player in the NFL and certainly part of being a kicker in the NFL is you got to bounce back from a miss. He did that in the game last night. So really that’s what I expect from all of our guys.”
The bounce back Stefanski was referring to was a PAT. After the Commanders game, York was one of the first players out of the locker room and did not talk to the media. That is not exactly what “...makeup for that role” means darting off.
The list of available free agent kickers is impressive. Right off Mason Crosby and Robbie Gould are seasoned veterans who have played a ton of games in cold weather situations. Crosby is 38 years old while Gould is 40. But kickers have been known to kick successfully into their later years.
Other notable kickers include Ryan Succop (36), Randy Bullock (33), and Elliott Fry (28).
Healthy competition makes both kickers better! Hoping to get a shot back in the NFL! pic.twitter.com/e1fEqGvHLx— Steven McCrane (@smccrane11) August 13, 2023
Another kicker available is former Browns practice squad player Matt McCrane (28). He recently kicked in the XFL with the DC Defenders and reportedly is kicking 60-yarders in his regular workouts (as seen in the left vid).
York began last year as the darling of the Browns after he nailed a 58-yarder in the opener to defeat Baker Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers. But over the course of the year, his accuracy was inconsistent, had three kicks blocked, and then he booted two attempts into the far left stands as a souvenir in different games. Those two kicks were embarrassing to the entire field goal unit.
New special teams coach Bubba Ventrone told The News Herald recently about York:
“Great kid, hard worker, very in tune with his mechanics, and almost too in tune at times, I would say. So trying to get him to just kind of make everything simple, make the corrections fast, and apply them to the next kick. We’re working through some things now. Operations have been pretty solid to this point.”
A lot of times games will come down to those 45-yard field goals, and then who do you want kicking? A second-year guy who is struggling, or a kicker who has a track record of success?
We get it. Training camp is for conditioning and getting acclimated to new systems. Bringing in Coach Ventrone is a great example of this. The preseason games are for getting experience in real game situations that practices cannot produce before the games that count begin.
Nobody is saying dump York. What is being implied here is to bring in another leg to compete. A veteran who can tutor the troubled kicker and help him work out his kinks. Who knows, though? Just maybe a decision would be made and if it is a change, then the coaches will do what is best for the 2023 version of the Browns.
“I think Cade’s going to, like every young player, going to continue to learn and grow from all these experiences. Very confident in him.”
At least somebody is. At this point, most fans believe the issue is above York’s shoulders.
On paper, this year’s Browns roster is loaded. Is the front office and coaching staff going to let a kicker be the reason they don’t go deep into the playoff picture?
Coach Stefanski has stated he is satisfied with keeping one kicker in camp. Do you agree?
This poll is closed
Yes, he is the head coach
No, not at all