At age 38, Phil Dawson doesn’t have many years left in the NFL.
But when the 49ers signed him to a one-year free-agent deal Tuesday, it was with a focus on 2013.
Dawson, the best kicker in the NFL last season, immediately gives the team stability in what had been an unstable position, and he buys the team time to address its long-term options. With 14 picks stockpiled for the draft in April, the Niners can still go after a college kicker for the long haul, if they choose, a younger player who could step in for 2013 or beyond. But San Francisco for 2013 has added a proven player who should give it a steady offensive weapon similar to 2011, when David Akers had the best season of his career – before tailing off significantly in 2012 because of injuries.
Dawson was the last original member of the new Cleveland Browns when they were re-born as an expansion team in 1999. He’s played 14 NFL seasons, all in Cleveland, and has a career success rate on field goals of 84 percent (305-for-363), which is No. 1 in NFL history.
Last season, when he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time, he was exceptional, making 29-of-31 tries, including 6-for-6 from 40 yards or beyond and 7-for-7 from 50 or more yards. Over the past two seasons, he’s made 14-of-15 from 50 yards or more. Last season, Akers missed 10 of his last 15 kicks from 40 yards or more, which at times proved costly.
Dawson’s signing addresses one of the 49ers biggest needs this offseason and adds to the improvements made by general manager Trent Baalke since the kickoff of the trade and free-agency period March 12. In that span, the Niners have acquired wideout Anquan Boldin, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, safety Craig Dahl and now Dawson to balance out (or improve upon) the losses of Randy Moss, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, safety Dashon Goldson and kicker Akers.
“Phil has performed at a high level throughout his career and has a lot of experience managing the elements, which is a valuable asset,” said Baalke in a statement announcing Dawson’s signing.
Dawson – who’s kicked in only two playoff games his entire career -- says he’s excited to get a chance to play with the defending NFC champions and a team with a chance to get to the Super Bowl again.
“I was sitting there quietly hoping this scenario would play out,” Dawson told the media Tuesday. “I’m not focusing on the (only one-year) term. I’m zeroed in on the 2013 season.”
Dawson thanked Browns fans via Twitter on Tuesday, but later said on a conference call that the chance to play for a winning team – and his old special teams coach in Cleveland, Brad Seeley – has him pumped up. He can’t wait to come to San Francisco and begin kicking at Candlestick to learn its conditions and weather patterns.
“It’s hard to pick just one (reason for signing) and that’s why this is such an attractive place,” Dawson said on the conference call. “Obviously, one of the storied organizations in the history of the NFL. A team that is on the verge of winning it all right now, with a great head coach, a great front office, special teams coach I’m familiar with, a great part of the world to live in. What is there not to like?
“When you start mixing that together, even for an idiot like me, it’s a pretty easy decision.”
Mike Sando, ESPN.com’s NFC West blogger, did point out one area in which Akers was superior to Dawson last year: kickoffs. In 2012, 46 percent of Akers’ kickoffs were touchbacks, even better than the league average of 44.1 percent. Dawson’s touchback rate was just 39 percent. Part of that could have been due to playing in bad weather, however. Sando cited ESPN Stats & Information’s figure that Dawson had to make the third-most kickoffs (14) in the league in 2012 when the temperature was below 40 degrees.