"Making the Cut"
As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at the key players at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Player: Chandler Catanzaro
Experience: 3rd season
Contract status: 2016-$600,500
2015 season quick review: Catanzaro improved during his second season in the NFL as the undrafted free agent out of Clemson knocked home 28 field goals on 31 attempts and finished the year 28-of-29 from inside of 50 yards. While Catanzaro finished as one of the top 10 kickers in the league in terms of his field goal accuracy, but only made 91.4 percent of his extra points during the NFL's first season debuting longer point after tries. The Cardinals were one of the NFL's worst teams in converting extra point attempts as Arizona ranked 25th overall.
Projected roster/depth chart status: Catanzaro is the only field goal kicker on the 90-man roster as the Cardinals appear more confident in him heading into fall camp than they do in incumbent punter Drew Butler who will compete with undrafted free agent Garrett Swanson. Two years ago, the Cardinals brought in Catanzaro as an undrafted free agent to compete with Jay Feely, and Catanzaro ultimately won the starting job. Though Catanzaro's roster status is safe, if he falters or struggles, NFL franchises have a tendency to waste little time with replacing inaccurate kickers so he must keep his production up.
Position group analysis: Because Catanzaro is the only kicker on the roster, we'll use this space to break down Catanzaro's kickoff duties. Catanzaro recorded touchbacks on nearly half of his kickoffs a season ago as he notched 50 touchbacks on 99 total kickoffs. Kickoff strategies vary by team and at home inside the University of Phoenix Stadium dome, Catanzaro doesn't typically have trouble booting the ball out of the end zone. However, sometimes teams will ask their kickers to put hang time under kickoffs in hopes of having a coverage unit pin a returner deep, and based on the trajectory of some of Catanzaro's kicks, it looked as though the Cardinals tried this strategy from time to time. Opponents averaged 24.3 yards per return against Catanzaro, and while Catanzaro allowed more overall kickoff return yards than any other kicker in the NFL, the Cardinals' scoring offense also forced him to kick off more often which helped him finish ninth in the league in touchbacks.
Moving forward: 2016 marks the final season the Cardinals will be able to capitalize on the excellent value Catanzaro's rookie contract provided as the organization has enjoyed having one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL over the past two seasons while paying him a nominal amount. If Catanzaro can improve on his kickoffs and PAT accuracy while maintaining his field goal accuracy, it seems like a lock the Cardinals would bring him back in the future. Even though Catanzaro may command a price steeper than the Cardinals might hope to pay, there's a lot to be said for having stability on special teams and being able to count on a kicker who has been close to automatic from inside of 50 yards.
Key skill: PAT accuracy
When the NFL moved its extra point tries back to the 15-yard line for the 2015 season, there was uncertainty surrounding the type of impact it would have on kickers. After just one season of following the new rule, it's clear it troubled many of the league's most accurate kickers including Catanzaro.
While the second-year kicker had little trouble knocking home field goals inside of 40 yards, the 32-yard extra point try proved difficult for Catanzaro who missed five over the course of the regular season.
The Cardinals are once again expected to be among the NFL's elite, and a team hoping to contend for a Super Bowl title cannot afford to have a kicker miss extra point tries. It may sound nit-picky to suggest Catanzaro struggled when he made 53 of his 58 attempts, but kicking is a precise profession and Arizona is surely hoping for improvement in this regard.
Overall value: It's going to be difficult to point to an active kicker who has provided more overall value over the course of his contract than Catanzaro has for the Cardinals. Two thirds of the league's teams have committed more than $1 million to their place kickers this season, and despite having one of the most productive kickers in the NFL, the Cardinals are not among them. This season, Catanzaro will earn just north of $600,000, which represents the largest annual sum during his contract. If all goes well for Catanzaro, he'll stand to be among the NFL's most highest-paid kickers next season, but as for now, the Cardinals have capitalized on signing Catanzaro and have received great value over the course of his contract.