It's understandable why the selection of a kicker in the fourth round of the NFL Draft would come off as too rich, especially when the Cleveland Browns whiffed on the fifth-round selection of Austin Seibert in the 2019 NFL Draft, but so long as Cade York is effective, it makes sense and saves cents for the Browns, the latter being a key component of this move.
The Browns entered the offseason with substantial needs in their special teams. They signed a kick and punt returner in Jakeem Grant, who will presumably compete with Demetric Felton for the spot. Corey Bojorquez was signed to handle the punting duty, replacing Jamie Gillan, now a member of the New York Giants.
Kicker, they waited until the NFL Draft and there are a few important reason why it was the best course of action, assuming their evaluation of York is correct.
There were fans and media understandably clamoring for the Browns to sign the best free agent kicker on the market, which presumably meant Younghoe Koo. Koo has been great, but he agreed to a five-year $24,25 million deal to remain with the Atlanta Falcons. The first season alone pays him $3 million and proceeds to escalate from there.
At the time, no one knew the Browns would acquire Deshaun Watson and give him a $230 million deal in addition to acquiring Amari Cooper. The Browns don't really have $3 million to pay a premium kicker.
Contrast that against the contract the 124th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, tight end John Bates received. Bates signed a four-year deal worth $4.202 million, starting with $840,604 in the first year. The deal York signs will be slightly higher, but he will be making less than both Bojorquez, ($1.5 million in 2022) and Grant ($1.851 million in 2022). Anthony McFarland Jr., the 124th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft signed a four-year deal for $3.885 million
Getting York on a four-year deal, averaging a little over a million per season offers significant cash savings for a team looking for every opportunity to save it in order to bolster what they hope is a Super Bowl winning roster.
2. Draft Class
Part of the reason York went in the fourth round was because the talent in this draft class was mediocre relative to recent draft classes. The Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed the Browns lead, each selecting a punter with the 130th pick and 133rd pick respectively.
In a better year, York may not go for another round, which is where the Cincinnati Bengals took Evan McPherson in 2021. There will undoubtedly be successful players who went late in this draft, but this class as a whole projects to perform relatively poorly.
The Browns have to prove it on the field, but they have a talented roster. There is a chance that multiple picks from this class will not make the team's final 53 and either end up on another team or the Browns practice squad. Perhaps they could've gotten a talented position player with the 124th pick that might have addressed a future need, but their odds of being able to make a meaningful contribution this year were low.
The Browns used eight other picks in an attempt to address upcoming issues. They could easily afford to utilize one fourth round pick, one that was acquired in a trade that produced two other picks that were used to address future issues, to try to get a more permanent answer to the team's kicking woes.
No one the Browns drafted this year will have a greater impact on the standings in the 2022 season than York. If York is great, he could be worth two victories, which might be even more precious than previous years if Deshaun Watson is indeed suspended. If he's simply average, he still may be worth one more win than they got last year with Chase McLaughlin, which could mean the difference in a postseason berth and watching from home.
The Browns take the long view with the draft. They have been fortunate to get immediate impact from some of their selections, most notably Greg Newsome and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah last year. But between the roster they already have and going into the draft without a first-round pick, then trading out of the second round entirely, they were setting themselves up for limited, immediate contributions from this group.
David Bell will have a shot to contribute in the slot. Martin Emerson could push for a role at nickel or dime and Perrion Winfrey might find his way into the rotation as a designated interior pass rusher.
It's not realistic to expect York to be perfect, but he should be an upgrade over any kicker the team might find in free agency at this point. The Browns didn't want to be searching to find the best of the rest. Yes, Justin Tucker was an undrafted free agent signing by the Ravens and he will likely end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The same Ravens selected punter Jordan Stout six picks after the Browns took York.
Everything with Cade York comes down to whether or not he's successful. So long as he's effective, their strategy in acquiring him is prudent, nailing down a key position over the next four years while also keeping the impact on the salary cap minimal. If York struggles or the Browns special teams continue to be bottom five in the league, then the Browns need a new special teams coordinator.