On Wednesday, Jan. 23rd, Indianapolis signed punter Chad Stanley to a 2008 contract. This move is considered a "future contract" that kicks in when the 2008 begins right after Super Bowl XLII. The signing obviously sheds some doubt on the future of Hunter Smith on the Colts roster and confirms rumors that team officials were not impressed with Smith's performance over the course of 2007.
Stanley played collegiately at Stephen F. Austin State University and was signed as an undrafted free agent by San Francisco following the 1999 NFL Draft. The 49ers released Stanley before the start of the 2001 season, and he signed a late-season contract with the Arizona Cardinals in November of that year, finished out the season, then signed with the Texans prior to their expansion season in 2002.
Chad Stanley with Houston
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Stanley remained the starter in Houston through the 2006 season, but was placed on injured reserve in September of 2007 due to a groin ailment, reached an injury settlement with Houston, and was subsequently granted free agent status, going unsigned until the Colts came calling last week.
With an extensive resume and a great deal of experience — as the punter for an expansion team, he got a lot of work, lining up for a total of 114 punts in 2002 alone — Stanley is certainly not the powerful-legged, wide-eyed kid that many would expect Indianapolis to sign to compete with Hunter throughout the coming offseason.
Generally speaking, when a team is dissatisfied with an older, directional punter like Smith, they sign a young player with a strong leg, but weak placement skills. If they have a punter that tends to carelessly boom the ball all over the field, they usually sign an older, directional punter. The fact that Smith and Stanley are practically identical players makes this move rather puzzling.
Stanley has a career gross average of 40.6, with a career high of 41.6 and a career low of 38.8. The lack of outliers in that data set indicates that he never possessed the ability to send the ball 70 yards down the field with his leg. Smith has also been very consistent throughout his career with a high gross average of 45.2 and low of 40.5.
Both are very precise, with Smith holding the edge in highest percentage of punts downed inside the 20 at 32.4 percent to 29.3 percent, while Stanley has had more success in avoiding touchbacks while attempting to pin the opponent inside their own 20, holding a 6.6 percent to 11.2 percent edge over Smith in the touchback percentage category for his career.
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In terms of age, Stanley turned 32 on Tuesday and Smith will turn 31 in August. But, since neither man had a great deal of leg strength to lose, age and wear-and-tear should not be a concern.
Given those statistics and tendencies over the course of their respective careers, it appears as though Smith and Stanley are essentially the same player. The primary difference between the two men is that Smith seemed to regress in 2007 while Stanley had one of his best years overall in 2006.
The rub there, though, is that Smith was either injured or considered to be not worth signing for the entire 2007, so it's strange that Indianapolis would pursue a player that no one else wanted.
Keeping in mind the fact that the coverage teams struggled in 2007 and that Tony Dungy would prefer to have some stability and consistency in the kicking game in 2008, though, the Colts seem to have found the perfect men for the job. While they may bring in an undrafted "young gun" for training camp in order to motivate Stanley and Smith, it is unlikely that Indianapolis will entrust a potential playoff season to an untested player. Therefore, it looks as though the best man between these twins ... wins.