49ers sign veteran kicker Dawson, replace Akers
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When new 49ers kicker Phil Dawson explained to his children he might no longer have uniform No. 4, one of his sons quickly suggested he go with 8. Dawson explained that, too, might be tough — considering it belonged to Hall of Famer Steve Young.
Dawson hopes to have even a little bit of that kind of impact on the San Francisco franchise.
The Super Bowl runner-up 49ers found their man to replace David Akers, signing the veteran Browns free agent to a one-year contract Tuesday after he spent the day at team headquarters.
“It’s hard to pick just one (reason), that’s what makes it such an attractive place,” Dawson said during a conference call Tuesday night. “One of the storied teams in the NFL and a team that’s on the verge of winning it all. ... When you start mixing all that together, even for an idiot like me it’s an easy decision.”
The Pro Bowl kicker announced earlier in the day via Twitter that he had joined the NFC champion Niners, who parted ways with the six-time Pro Bowler Akers on March 6 following a season in which he made only 29 of 42 attempts a year after he kicked an NFL single-season record 44 field goals.
The 38-year-old Dawson went 29 for 31 on field goals last season in his 14th year with the Browns, making all 13 of his attempts from 40 yards or beyond, including 7 for 7 from 50-plus.
In announcing his move, Dawson first thanked the fans in Cleveland and tweeted he is “humbled and thrilled to have the opportunity to continue my career with my new team, the SF 49ers.”
Dawson plans to reach out to Akers, let go with one year remaining on his contract. Akers was among the biggest factors in San Francisco ending a franchise-worst stretch of eight years without a winning record or playoff berth when the team won the division in 2011.
“I haven’t had any direct conversation with David, but he’s a guy I hold in the highest regard both on and off the field,” Dawson said. “There’s worse people to follow than him. The career he’s had is one we all wish we could have.”
Dawson has done pretty well himself.
He is the ninth-most accurate field-goal kicker (84.0 percent) in league history. His signing with San Francisco ends a 14-year odyssey in Cleveland, where he became one of the Browns’ most popular players, a team leader, and holder of many franchise records.
Unable to work out a long-term deal with him, the Browns used their franchise tag on him the past two years. He had perhaps his best season in 2012. Not only was the 38-year-old kicker getting older, he was getting better.
Dawson said part of his recent success has been getting the right opportunities, though “when I’m kicking well I don’t think about distance.”
He was named to his first Pro Bowl, and on the day his selection was announced, a few teammates and members of the Browns’ equipment staff decorated his locker with Hawaiian mementos.
Despite his love for all the years he spent in Cleveland, Dawson is ready to start anew out West. Ending his career with the Browns was something he thought could happen.
“There were definitely times I thought that would be the case, and in some ways hoped that would be the case,” Dawson said. “This is just the way it goes. I’m not in much of a position to reflect at this point because I’m so excited about the task ahead.
“I’m grateful for the road that it’s been and excited for where it goes now.”
When last season ended, Dawson knew his days with the Browns — he was the only remaining player from the 1999 expansion team — were probably over.
Before he left the locker room for a final time, he wrote “Phil Was Here 1999-2012” on the inside of a cabinet door adjacent to his locker where he stored his cleats.
“Prison style,” he said.
Dawson had a strong connection with Browns fans, who admired him for his remarkable consistency despite being with a team that made the playoffs just once during his time with Cleveland.
“Hey, Cleveland,” Dawson wrote on his Twitter account. “Thank you for a tremendous ride. Your love, support & encouragement have blessed me deeply.”
In San Francisco, Dawson will be reunited with former Browns special teams coordinator Brad Seely, and he might have a chance to get to a Super Bowl with a team ready to get back to the championship game after losing to Baltimore for last season’s title.
“The 49ers just got better on the field & in the locker room!” former Browns linebacker Scott Fujita tweeted. “Congrats to (at)phil_dawson_4! Good things happen to good people!”
Dawson finished with 1,271 points, and if he had stayed with Cleveland, Dawson would have likely broken Hall of Famer Lou Groza’s career scoring record (1,349) next season.
“We want to thank Phil for all of his years of service to the Cleveland Browns,” the team said in a statement. “He accomplished a great deal in his time here on the field, as a team leader and in the community.
“We know how much Phil meant to our organization and our fans, and he will always hold a special place in our franchise’s history and with the city of Cleveland. We want to wish Phil and his family the best of success in San Francisco.”
One of the first things Dawson asked Seely on Tuesday was whether he could get into Candlestick Park this offseason and start learning the venue’s tricky, unpredictable conditions — such as swirling winds and low-hanging fog.
“It’s going to be a challenge because I’m not as familiar with it as other stadiums,” Dawson said. “I’ll study the weather forecast, and when it’s supposed to be bad days you’ll find me in there. ... That’s part of my job. I’ve got to put the work in now and I’m ready to do it.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this story.