LEVELAND - Phil Dawson had what has become his annual farewell game Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The Browns kicker will be eligible for unrestricted free agency when his contract expires in March. Dawson assumed he would have been a free agent after each of the last two seasons, but the Browns exercised the franchise tag designation both years, which bound his services to the team at a considerable raise.
Teams can't use the franchise tag on the same player more than two times, which means Dawson will be free to sign with another team.
Dawson was certain that he was headed elsewhere after last season. His comments to reporters after the season finale at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers had the tone of thanks for the memories.
Dawson said after a 38-21 loss to the Washington Redskins Sunday that he'd like to return to Cleveland. There are no guarantees that will happen because of uncertainty due to the change in ownership and his age (he'll be 38 in January).
"There's a time to get into all of that," Dawson said. "We still have two games left. I'll address all that when the proper time comes."
Dawson took a few minutes after Sunday's games to talk to some of the fans in the stands. He's developed an appreciation for their support, and they've grown to admire him for having one of the great careers ever by a kicker.
Kickers aren't as idolized as other players in most NFL cities. That's not the case in Cleveland, where fans hold Dawson in high regard.
"The fans have been unbelievable," Dawson said. "Just overwhelmingly supportive. I wanted to take a few moments to let them know that I love them. I care about Cleveland and I want Cleveland to know how I feel, so it takes you down the road to say your proper goodbyes. We don't know what's going to happen."
The final home game in each of the last three seasons has had different feels for Dawson. Last year he walked off the field seeing more fans wearing Steelers' jerseys than Browns' jerseys. Not getting a win yesterday was a disappointment.
"They're all a little different," Dawson said. "Walking off with the majority of fans in the stands from the other team is a tough way to leave the field, and I know everyone in this locker room feels bad about how we played today. We have two more chances to go do our jobs, and hopefully we end the season up on the right note."