The Cleveland Browns traded their 2017 seventh-round draft-pick to the San Francisco 49ers for punter Andy Lee over the weekend. Lee is a three-time Pro Bowler, but was not in the 49ers’ future plans, as San Francisco drafted punter Bradley Pinion out of Clemson with their fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Lee’s last Pro Bowl appearance was in 2011, and before that he received the honor in 2007 and 2009.
The trade resulted in the Browns cutting ties with punter Spencer Lanning, who spent two seasons in Cleveland. The Browns have made several moves to alter their special teams this off-season, waiving long-snapper Christian Yount, and cutting kicker Garrett Hartley.
Cleveland’s special teams were not near the top of the league in any regard in the 2014 season. The Browns were 15th in net average on punts, 28th in field goal percentage, 28th in kick return average, and 28th in punt return average. Cleveland has not had one of the league’s more potent offenses in recent memory, so the field position battle will be crucial for a team that wants to rely on a strong running game and tough defense to win games.
Cleveland is not known as an easy place to kick, due to the unpredictable winds off the lake and the harsh winters of Northeast Ohio, but San Francisco is not known as a kicker-friendly place either, which is one reason why the 49ers went after long-time Browns kicker Phil Dawson in 2013. So the move from San Francisco to Cleveland may not be as hard for Lee to make the adjustments as it would with other punters.
Lee is 32 years old, entering his 12th season in the NFL, and has four years left on a six-year deal that he signed with San Francisco in 2012. Lee is under contract to make roughly $12 mil. over the next four seasons, making him the fifth highest-paid punter in the league. The Browns will have a competition to see who will be the kicker on the shores of Lake Erie in the 2015 season, but appear to have one special teams spot set for years to come with Lee.
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