Cardinals season review: Specialists
This is the final edition of FOX Sports Arizona’s position-by-position analysis of the Arizona Cardinals, examining their personnel’s strengths and weaknesses, the team’s free agents at those positions and the team’s draft or free-agent needs.
K Jay Feely, P Dave Zastudil, KR Javier Arenas, PR Patrick Peterson
Feely will be the most intriguing special-teams storyline of the offseason. He is an unrestricted free agent and will be 38 when the 2014 season begins. Feely was consistent most of the season, but when he was off, he was off. He missed two field goals in a game twice this past season, including a pair of misses in a season-ending 23-20 loss to San Francisco. He also had a crucial miss in the season-opening 27-24 loss at St. Louis.
During training camp, coach Bruce Arians was unhappy with the depth on Feely’s kickoffs and his accuracy, so he brought in Dan Carpenter for competition. Feely’s 83.3 percent conversion rate (30 of 36) on field goals this season ranked just 21st in the NFL, and just 33 of his 86 kickoffs went for touchbacks.
The Cardinals moved quickly to re-sign Zastudil, an unrestricted free agent, to a two-year deal. That made sense. Zastudil averaged 45.7 yards a punt, and for the second straight season, his net average topped 40 yards (40.1). He had an NFL-high 35 punts downed inside the 20 (45 percent of his punts), topping the 41 percent he posted in 2012, when he set an NFL record with 46 such punts. He and special-teams ace Justin Bethel developed remarkable chemistry in that department.
Peterson hasn’t come anywhere near matching his rookie season, when he tied an NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns. He doesn’t have a TD since, his 6-yard average ranked just 21st in the NFL in 2013, and his longest return was 22 yards. Part of the problem is that teams are game-planning for Peterson by angling their punts to the sideline or getting better hang time. Part of the problem is the personnel blocking in front of Peterson. Part of the problem is that the special-teams coach who oversaw Peterson’s success, Kevin Spencer, is gone. But Peterson shares some of the blame. He hasn’t been the dynamic threat the Cardinals need in this area.
Arenas finished second to last in the NFL with a 21.4-yard kickoff return average, making the Cardinals’ return game one of the league’s worst. Arenas is a free agent, and Arizona could use an upgrade at this position as well as some tweaks to its return game that might help improve field position.
Jay Feely (unrestricted), Javier Arenas (unrestricted)
It depends on what happens with Feely. If the Cards decide to re-sign the veteran kicker, they have no significant needs in free agency, although they could certainly upgrade their kick-return game.
It’s hard to envision the Cardinals spending a draft pick on a kicker when they could either re-sign Feely or find a free agent.
Kickers: Dustin Hopkins, Florida State; Caleb Sturgis, Florida; Brett Maher, Nebraska; Anthony Cantele, Kansas State; Zach Brown, Portland State; Brandon McManus, Temple; Brett Baer, Louisiana-Lafayette; Dan Conroy, Michigan State; Jeremy Shelley, Alabama; Drew Alleman, LSU.