CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns picked a franchise kicker Saturday, and anyone who didn’t think the draft could serve as the Browns’ Super Bowl anymore underestimated the excitement associated with replacing Chase McLaughlin.
There will be kicker jerseys in the stands at the Browns’ home opener. Someone in Northeast Ohio this season, when asked for their favorite Brown, will answer “Cade York.”
If the Browns have been trying to replace Bernie Kosar at quarterback for 30 years, they’ve really been trying to replace Phil Dawson at kicker for 10.
York, out of LSU, has a big leg and big attitude, and the Browns, after choosing him with pick No. 124 in the fourth round, said they liked his mental makeup. York exudes belief, which was part of Evan McPherson’s rise as the Bengals’ rookie kicker a year ago. Kicker confidence is a real. So is going 15-of-19 on field goals of 50 yards or more in college.
When the Browns traded back from No. 44 on Friday, I tweeted (half-jokingly and half-seriously) that they were increasing their maneuverability to draft a kicker. They had entered the draft with no picks between No. 118 in the fourth round and No. 202 in the sixth round. The most likely York Zone was in between. The Dallas Cowboys were the most kicker-needy team in the league, but I argued the Browns were the most kicking-desperate team. Dallas had six picks between 118 and 202 entering the draft. They could be active in the York Zone.
When the Browns added two fourth-rounders, they opened the door on getting aggressive on York. Because there is an opportunity cost in picking a kicker this early. In the last 16 drafts, only two kickers went higher than No. 124. Pass-catchers that could have helped the Browns like tight end Charlie Kolar (No. 128 to Baltimore) and slot receiver Calvin Austin III (No. 138 to Pittsburgh) went to division rivals after the Browns went kicker instead.
But with the two extra fourths, they could afford to do it. They started the draft with premium positions with a cornerback at No. 68, an edge rusher at No. 78, and a receiver at No. 99. They took a talented defensive tackle who expected to go higher in Perrion Winfrey at No. 108.
And all that made a kicker at No. 124 reasonable, especially for this team. The draft really is not about picking the best players. It’s about picking the players who will help you win the most. York is the best player at his position, and his position is one that the Browns absolutely needed to upgrade in their pursuit of winning.
I thought the third round was too high, but I was also concerned they didn’t have the picks in the range for York. In my final mock draft, I had the Browns trading up to No. 150 to get ahead of Dallas and take York. They went 26 picks better than that.
I didn’t like trading down from No. 44 in the second round with receivers George Pickens and Skyy Moore on the board, but believe it or not, the Browns drafting a slow receiver and a kicker made it more palatable. David Bell was good value at 99, and so York couldn’t go there. But York at 124 fit.
So instead of Pickens at 44 (who then went to the Steelers at 52), the Browns got cornerback Martin Emerson at 68, plus Winfrey and York. That three for one work for you? If it does, it’s because York puts it over the top.
We did an entire offseason series about Baker Mayfield before the Deshaun Watson trade that we called The Mayfield Matrix. I pondered a version of The McLaughlin Matrix, again half-jokingly and half-seriously, because the Browns’ kicking situation was that bad and they couldn’t come back with McLaughlin as their guy. Not after he was 4-of-10 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards last year.
They didn’t sign a kicker in free agency. Plenty of franchise kickers were signed by their teams after they were cut by someone else. But the Browns went too all-in with Watson and Amari Cooper this offseason to leave kicker to chance, to wait for some other team’s rejected kicker.
They had to get a guy. They knew it. They got what we all have been thinking is the right guy.
I didn’t imagine I’d ever be this excited by a kicker pick. If it works, we won’t have to go through this again for another 10 years.
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