Last season, the Arizona Cardinals started with big Super Bowl aspirations. The plans went off the rails after the team struggled to find consistency on all phases of the game for the majority of 2016. A big part of their struggles was special teams. Not only inconsistencies, but injuries and departed players hurt the unit the most.
In 2016, Cardinals long-time Long Snapper Mike Leach retired. At the time, rookie Kam Canaday was signed to replace Leach and rookie Lamar Louis made the 53-man roster due to his solid special teams play in the preseason. Unfortunately for the both of them, they struggled badly and were released in the beginning of the season. Chandler Catanzaro missed seven field goals & four extra points.
The team kept relying on Drew Butler, who was ranked as one, if not, the worst punter in the league for the past three seasons. Ryan Quigley was signed but was released as soon as Butler was healthy. Special teams ace Justin Bethel struggled with a foot injury. The team also lost key players Jaron Brown, Alani Fua, Gabe Martin, and Ifeanyi Momah to injury reserve.
Even through all of the inconsistencies, the team did manage to find some answers in 2016 with the additions of P Matt Wile and LS Aaron Brewer , with Drew Butler and Canaday released in the process.
Immediately after the conclusion of the season the team signed Richie Leone, who averaged 49.4 yards per kick with a net average of 39.11 in the CFL, and will compete with Wile for the starting job. During free agency, the team signed Kicker Phil Dawson who has been consistently good throughout his 18 years in the league. T.J. Logan was drafted to be the answer to their kick return woes, who averaged 32.9 yards per return and had two returned touchdowns in his senior season at North Carolina.
If Justin Bethel can return to Pro Bowl form, Dawson can make the game winning kicks, Wile or Leone punt better than Butler ever did, Logan’s production in college translates, and the special teams unit stays healthy as a whole, the Arizona Cardinals can return to the playoffs.
With the new acquisitions and healthy players, the team is poised to have an improved special teams unit in the 2017 NFL season.