The Cardinals are switching kickers.
Phil Dawson agreed to terms on a two-year contract with the team on Friday. He will replace Chandler Catanzaro, who was with the Cardinals for the past three seasons and is now an unrestricted free agent.
Dawson is an 18-year veteran who has played for the 49ers and the Browns. He will be 42 next season but doesn’t seem to be slowing down, as he hit 85.7 percent of his field goals a season ago. He connected on 8-of-11 tries from 40 yards or longer and didn’t miss inside the 40. He was 33-of-34 on extra points.
Catanzaro has a career field goal percentage of 84.8 percent but only connected on 21-of-28 attempts last season and missed four extra points.
Dawson knows he’s not the flashiest signing – he compared himself to a dependable vehicle rather than a head-turning sports car -- but stability is what the team needs at the position. The Cardinals’ 2016 season was marred by missed kicks, as they played a role in losses to the Patriots and Dolphins as well as the tie against the Seahawks.
Dawson said pressure situations don’t faze him.
“I have a very strict routine I follow,” Dawson said. “It can be a first quarter kick, it can be a game-winning kick, my routine will not change. What that’s done for me is to block out the distractions that will go with a game-winning-type kick. If you get caught up in thinking about anything other than what you have to do, you’re making your job even tougher.”
Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim prioritized upgrading special teams this offseason, and said earlier this month he placed a lot of value on good kickers.
“When you find one that is consistent, has a lot of internal strength, strong-minded, those guys are hard to find,” Keim said. “And we all know, you never want to put a game on a kicker, for a missed kick or a missed extra point, but at the end of the day, it’s reality. It happens. And it can be extremely costly. When that can decide a game, you have to put a lot of value in them.”
Dawson split time on kickoffs with 49ers punter Bradley Pinion last season and only racked up four touchbacks when used. However, he said that was on a directive from the San Francisco coaches, who asked him to place the ball in certain areas.
"I saw someone write the other day, ‘Phil only had four touchbacks,’” Dawson said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I was only asked to kick four touchbacks.’ I can do different things with the ball, and I’d like to think I can still bang it deep when the team needs that. I’m going to prepare to be able to contribute in that way, and when the coaches make their decision, I’ll support that 100 percent.”
Playing eight games a year in University of Phoenix Stadium should help Dawson, who often faced adverse conditions in in the past between cold weather and wind.
“It’ll be nice, but it’s funny – each kick requires your full focus,” Dawson said. “You could be in a blizzard or you could be in a dome, if you take it for granted you’re going to miss it. Yes, it’s going to be nice in a beautiful stadium – I love the stadium and everything about it; I’ve had great success in the stadium kicking – but just because I’ve done it before or just because it’s in a dome doesn’t guarantee it’s going to happen again. I’ve got to approach each and every kick with the absolute focus that it requires.”
Dawson and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians were together with the Browns for a few seasons, and that relationship made Dawson want to join the Cardinals. He was excited to hear from them in free agency.
“When I left Cleveland to go to San Francisco – change is not easy for a guy like me, and that was a tough transition,” Dawson said. “This one seems much easier because of the relationships.”