New Cardinals punter Andy Lee (2) works in his first practice Mondayt after signing a two-year contract.
The special teams overhaul is complete, and yes, some miles have been added to the equation.
“I think Sunset Acres should sponsor the special teams unit,” 42-year-old kicker Phil Dawson joked Monday, after the Cardinals signed 35-year-old punter Andy Lee to a two-year contract.
Age doesn’t matter if the results are there, however, and that’s what the Cardinals believe will happen. A year ago, the kicker/punter combination was Chandler Catanzaro and Drew Butler. This year, it’s Dawson and Lee, a pairing coach Bruce Arians thinks will avoid the pitfalls the previous duo could not.
“I would hope they would be a whole lot more consistent, you know? Two veteran guys that have been through a
lot of big games and I’m excited they’re both on our team,” Arians said.
Matt Wile and Richie Leone were the two punters who battled for the job in camp – Wile made the initial 53-man roster Saturday and was released Monday with Lee’s arrival – but when Lee was cut by Carolina, it became a natural fit.
Lee averaged 49.1 yards a punt on 36 attempts last season before going on injured reserve in early November for a hamstring injury. After taking a paycut in the offseason, he was beaten out this year by Mike Palardy.
Lee has averaged 46.1 yards a punt in his previous 13 NFL seasons, the first 11 in San Francisco before playing in Cleveland in 2015 and Carolina last season. He has made three Pro Bowls and three times has been the first-team all-pro punter.
“I feel like I’m still the same,” Lee said. “I feel like I can still hit those balls, I feel like I can do everything I’ve always done.”
Oh, and he knows Dawson, having held for the kicker when the two played together with the 49ers in 2013 and 2014.
“I enjoyed my time with Matt and Richie, I thought they competed hard all camp, but this is how it goes in the NFL,” Dawson said. “Having been with Andy before, he brings a comfort level.”
Lee declined to talk about what other offers he might have had. He did emphasize he had no hard feelings for the Panthers after being let go. “It’s a business,” he said. “I understand that.”
Lee pulled his right hamstring last season stretching on the sideline on third down before a punt in a game. He
didn’t even know he had done it before trying to punt on the next play. The injury turned out to end his season. He said he’s healthy now, understanding he has to do more to ready his leg for each punt now that he has gotten older.
“He wasn’t Ray Guy, but he was close,” Arians said of Lee’s prime. “For his era, he’s one of the tops and he can still put it out there.”
Lee, Dawson and long snapper Aaron Brewer – who didn’t arrive until a month into last season, replacing the struggling Kam Canaday – worked on the field-goal mechanism Monday. While Dawson said there are some things to go over, “we’ll be fine.”
The comfort level isn’t just there for Dawson. Lee has a handful of former teammates on the Cardinals roster, and that doesn’t even include wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, with whom Lee played with in college at the University of Pittsburgh. Both were NFL rookies in 2004.
Now Lee is trying to help Fitzgerald reach his ultimate goal, as part of an upgraded special teams unit for which Dawson has optimism.
“It’s up to us to write the story. We can talk a lot about it, but it’s not until we get out there, and we have 16 chances to do it,” Dawson said.