CLEVELAND — The Browns have a Cade York conundrum.
The embattled second-year kicker missed his third field-goal attempt of the exhibition season Thursday night against Philadelphia, renewing questions about his future with Cleveland and whether the team needs to enact any backup plans with the Sept. 10 season opener quickly approaching.
However, despite York’s preseason struggles, coach Kevin Stefanski insists the Browns aren’t ready to give him the boot.
“Cade’s our kicker. We support him,” Stefanski said. “We have a ton of confidence in him. It’s really as simple as that.”
But is it?
The Browns are being patient with York, but it could be wearing thin. They didn’t bring a second kicker into training camp to compete with him, perhaps their way of relieving any pressure he may have been feeling.
And while he has been nearly perfect in practice, York isn’t getting it done in games – and the meaningful ones start in three weeks.
York seemed to ease concerns about his rough summer – he missed field goals in each of the first two preseason games – as the Browns wrapped up a four-day stay in Philadelphia by making kicks from 43, 37 and 43 yards against the Eagles.
That’s when things went astray,
With a chance to give the Browns a late lead, York missed a 47-yarder, pushing it right just like he did on two previous misses this month. He got a reprieve when the Eagles were called for an illegal formation, but given a second chance, York overcompensated and pulled a 41-yard attempt left.
The game ended in an 18-18 tie.
Afterward, Stefanski again offered strong public support of York, a fourth-round draft pick in 2022 from LSU who had an inconsistent rookie season, making 24 of 32 field goals and admitting he struggled with focus.
And while the Browns could be privately concerned about York’s inaccuracy and considering other options, Stefanski insisted he’s sticking by the 22-year-old and doubled down during a Zoom call Friday with reporters.
“I have a ton of confidence in Cade because I’ve seen him do it in practice,” Stefanski said. “I’ve seen him do it in games. So he’ll continue to work, but I feel it’s really no different than any other player where they’ve got to work on their craft. Now is the time to do that.
“Obviously, Cade wants to make every kick. We want him to make every kick. It’s an occupational hazard that you’re going to miss one. It’s how you deal with it and how you bounce back from it.”
The Browns have already made a major investment in York. It’s highly unusual for any kicker to be drafted and Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry selected him in the fourth round – higher than any kicker since 2016.
That alone makes it understandable the Browns want to give him every chance to succeed. They also know if they released him, which still seems unlikely at this point, he could go on to have success elsewhere.
Stefanski experienced such a scenario when he was with Minnesota and coach Mike Zimmer cut rookie Daniel Carlson after just two games. Carlson went on to become one of the NFL’s best kickers, earning an All-Pro selection last season in Las Vegas.
Stefanski wouldn’t compare the two situations, saying only he hasn’t lost any faith in York.
“I do think Cade has the right mentality to continue to work through it,” he said.
York’s job appears to be safe for now, and he’ll get another chance to solidify his spot in the exhibition finale next week at Kansas City. In the meantime, even the kicks he’ll attempt in practice will take on added meaning.
From here out, York needs to be on target.
NOTES: Starting RT Jack Conklin remains in concussion protocol after being hurt in the first of two joint practices this week against the Eagles. … Rookie Ronnie Hickman, who has three interceptions in the past two games, was tested for a head injury. Stefanski didn’t know if he’s in protocol. … Stefanski had more praise for WR Austin Watkins Jr., who may have won a roster spot after getting seven catches for 139 yards and a TD. “He’s done a nice job running routes,” Stefanski said. “Been very dependable catching the ball as well.”