Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Cardinals need to entertain punter battle

With an injury to Drew Butler sidelining the Cardinals' punter it's time for Arizona to consider alternatives.

With the Cardinals ranking dead last in the NFL in net punting average through three games and veteran punter Drew Butler suffering an Achilles' injury in Sunday's game in Buffalo, now is the time for Arizona to entertain competition for Butler's job.

Butler's net punting average in 2016 is 33.7 yards per punt, and since his second season in the league in 2014, Butler's net average has regressed each year. 

In 2015 the Cardinals ranked 31st in the league in net punting average, outpacing only the Jets as Butler suffered through the worst season of his career. This year, though, Butler hasn't improved, and a foot injury coupled with Sunday's Achilles' ailment have consistently left Arizona's opponents with good field position.

In training camp, the Cardinals brought in undrafted free agent punter Garrett Swanson out of Fresno State to compete with Butler for the punting job, but Swanson was never given a serious opportunity to win a position battle as the team favored Butler throughout camp. The decision to move forward with Butler was puzzling at best, especially considering the franchise has Super Bowl aspirations and special teams plays such a significant factor in overall success.

Nevertheless, Butler's injury has given the Cardinals a second chance. On Monday, head coach Bruce Arians suggested the team must bring in a new punter to replaced their injured starter, and Arizona is likely on the precipice of announcing who will handle punting duties this weekend against Los Angeles.

In a rather shocking move, though, Arians said the Cardinals would hold Butler's roster spot, and have the Georgia product hold field goals for placekicker Chandler Catanzaro. Using a valuable roster spot solely for a holder is a practically unprecedented move, and one that makes little to no sense at all.

Arizona will justify using the spot for Butler because it wants to keep Catanzaro comfortable, but the team has every reason to blow up its field goal unit, minus its kicker. On Tuesday, the team parted ways with rookie snapper Kameron Canaday, who botched a pair of crucial snaps during the first three weeks of his career. If the Cardinals are going to force their holder to work with a new snapper anyway, why not find a player who serves more than one purpose?

The decision to keep Butler active as a holder is confounding on a number of levels, but it also hints at the idea Butler's replacement may be a temporary one. Instead of cutting ties with the NFL's worst punter and moving forward, Arizona is keeping Butler just in case it can't find someone better?

Butler's 40.3 yard per punt average isn't dreadful, but his low hang time and Arizona's poor coverage units have led to a dismal punt unit that has the potential to cost the Cardinals dearly in the future. A team that already lost one game due to a special teams mistake can't afford to lose another, but Arizona is flirting with danger.

Not only are there 31 NFL teams with better net punting averages than Arizona, there are 118 FBS football teams with better net averages, and 70 punters who match Butler's 40.3 yard per punt average.

The idea that there isn't a superior punter on the market is a flawed one, and even if the replacement the Cardinals find on a temporary basis isn't much better than Butler, there are plenty of options out there who represent an upgrade. And the Cardinals need one. 


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