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MOJO Putting the “Special” into Jolly Rodgers’ Special Teams

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Background: Dec 25, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals special teams player Dennis Gardeck celebrates his tackle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at State Farm Stadium. NFL Tampa Bay At Cardinals. Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK.

In fact, the Patriots under Bill Belichick have consistently set aside a 3+ player roster subset, explicitly for their ace special teamers. With their perennial ST ace WR Matthew Slater, the Patriots list him as a WR, but, in reality, he should be listed as ST Matthew Slater, because it is a rare game day when he plays a single snap on offense.

There are some GMs and head coaches, like Bill Belichick, who believe that the special teams can set the tone for the entire team. Bill always makes a great point about special teams when he says that, after all, more players on the roster are involved in special teams than any of the three phases.

I will never forget when I had the opportunity to watch Tom Coughlin run practices at Boston College. He would run highly disciplined special teams drills for 20 minutes at the beginning of each practice, for 10 minutes in the middle of practice and for 10 minutes at the end of practice. I was a high school coach then, and I began to do the same. It paid handsome dividends.

Special Teams Tackles 2022 (solos + assists):

  • Josh Woods (DET) —- 14
  • Dennis Gardeck (ARI) —- 11
  • Stephen Anderson (ARI)* —- 9 —- *(UFA)
  • Zeke Turner (ARI) —- 8
  • Kris Boyd (MIN) —- 8
  • Zach Pascal (PHI) —- 7

2022 Special Teams Above Average PFF Grades (for returning players who logged over 100 snaps):

  • Antonio Hamilton —- 83.9
  • Dennis Gardeck —- 80.9
  • Zeke Turner —- 79.7
  • Leki Fotu —- 73.8
  • Victor Dimukeje —- 73.7
  • Christian Matthew —- 70.0
  • Trey McBride —- 68.2
  • Jesse Luketa —- 66.9

The Significance of Re-Signing K Matt Prater

Contract Details:

  • 2 years @ $6.5M with $1M more in incentives
  • $3.75M guaranteed
  • 2023 Cap Number: $2.75M
  • 2024 Cap Number: $4.75M

Of course, not only does Matt Prater have a number of ties (in DEN and ARI) to Jeff Rodgers, the Cardinals’ special teams coordinator, he also has major ties with the Cardinals’ new assistant GM, Dave Sears, who was the Lions’ kicker from 2014-2020.

The fact that MOJO decided to re-sign Matt Prater to a 2 year $7.5M deal indicates that the Cardinals are aiming to win, despite the hoards of pundits and fans who think the Cardinals are “tanking” this year. This kind of veteran signing does not typically occur for a team that is in a full rebuild.

What about Andy Lee and Aaron Brewer?

Both Lee and Brewer have been pondering retirement, but there seemed to be a sentiment from them late last season that they may be willing to return in 2023 at competitive salaries.

It would appear at this point that the Cardinals might be planning to select a punter in the upcoming draft. Or, perhaps, Jeff Rodgers likes the players the team signed to Future’s contracts this year: P Nolan Cooney (6-3, 202, 1, Syracuse) and LS Joe Fortunato (6-5, 240, 1, Delaware).

Cooney’s senior year at Syracuse in the ACC, he averaged 44.8 yards on 74 punts. Joe Fortunato has tried out for the Colts, Cowboys, Packers and Broncos, but hopes to make his first NFL roster with the Cardinals.

Who will be the Kickoff and Punt Returners?

This is the one area of the Cardinals’ special teams that has been consistently below average.

WR Greg Dortch’s 2022 stats:

  • Punt Returns: 26 for 172 yards (6.6 ave.), long of 18.
  • Kickoff Returns: 11 for 218 yards (19.8 ave.), long of 31.

Pharoh Cooper late last season gave the return game a boost:

  • Punt Returns: 9 for 117 yards (13.0 ave.), long of 28.
  • Kickoff Returns: 12 for 288 yards (24.0 ave.), long of 33.

Ideally, Greg Dortch will improve his return game this season, but he is going to need some competition. If the Cardinals do not pick up a bona fide punt and/or kickoff returner in the draft or as one of their undrafted free agent signees, it might be a good idea to re-sign Pharoh Cooper, if he’s still available.

PFF Special Teams rankings under STC Jeff Rodgers:

  • 2022 Arizona Cardinals 90.0 (9th in NFL)
  • 2021 Arizona Cardinals 85.8 (13th in NFL)
  • 2020 Arizona Cardinals 90.1 (7th in NFL)
  • 2019 Arizona Cardinals 63.7 (23rd in NFL)
  • 2018 Arizona Cardinals 73.3 (11th in the NFL)

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams have been trending upward in recent years —- will 2023 be Rodgers’ best year in Arizona?

MOJO were not only eager to retain Jeff Rodgers, they have been checking off a number of the boxes on his free agent wish list.

Coach Rodgers must be feeling something extra special these days. He must be as excited to put the romance back into all areas of special teams the way he has for his epic 4th down conversions on fake punts.

You know, like this miraculous gem in 2022:

Hail to the Jolly Rodgers Special!