P Andy Lee is a ‘welcome addition’ to the Arizona Cardinals

Sep 4, 2017, 5:15 PM | Updated: 5:29 pm
Carolina Panthers' Andy Lee (8) watches his punt sail over to the Minnesota Vikings during the seco...
Carolina Panthers' Andy Lee (8) watches his punt sail over to the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. The Vikings won 22-10. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Between them, kicker Phil Dawson and punter Andy Lee have more than 30 years of NFL playing experience.

Dawson is 42 and Lee turned 35 last month.

“I think Sunset Acres should sponsor the special teams unit,” Dawson joked.

Teammates in San Francisco for two seasons, the pair have been reunited in Arizona after the Cardinals signed Lee to a two-year contract on Monday.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said, following his first practice with his new team.

“Andy is a welcome addition,” Dawson added.

Released by Carolina over the weekend, Lee became an attractive option for the Cardinals, who were looking to upgrade that position. Matt Wile had won the job, beating out Richie Leone, to make the initial 53-man roster on Saturday. Wile, however, was inconsistent with his kicks, leaving open the possibility the Cardinals would begin the regular season with a punter who was not on the roster during training camp.

Over his 13-year career, Lee’s punts have covered an average of 46.3 yards with a 39.5 yard net average; numbers that rank ninth and 12th-best in league history. In addition, he’s placed 343 punts inside the 20-yard line, tied for eighth all-time.

“He wasn’t Ray Guy but he was close,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “For his era, he’s one of the tops and he can still put it out there. Glad to have him.”

In 2016, Lee was enjoying one of his better seasons averaging almost 50 yards a punt when he pulled his hamstring in Week 10. The injury ended his season.

The Panthers then cut ties altogether with Lee, choosing to go with Michael Palardy this season.

”It’s a business. I understand that,” Lee said. “I’m happy where I’m at now.”

And healthy. The hamstring “feels great now” so there’s no question in Lee’s mind that he can once again reach the Pro Bowl and All-Pro level that he accomplished three times each previously in his career.

“I feel like I’m still the same. I feel like I can still hit those balls. I can still do everything I’ve always done,” he said. “It’s just sometimes things work out and sometimes things don’t some seasons. I think it’s being in the right situations to hit the right type of balls to get your numbers to where they need to be, honestly. I think you can have lower numbers and still help the team just as much as you did when you had the high numbers.”

The Cardinals’ punting numbers weren’t good last season; in fact, they were downright awful. Both their average (41.9) and net average (39.0) ranked dead last among the 32 teams.

Lee’s history with Dawson should also pay dividends for the Cardinals. Lee was Dawson’s holder in San Francisco 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,” said Dawson, who couldn’t remember a bad hold from Lee. “Obviously, having been with Andy before brings a comfort level but he and I both know it doesn’t matter what happened in the past. We got to get ready to play this week and that’s how it goes so that’s what we’re going to do.”

At practice on Monday, Dawson and Lee spent a good amount of time together, reacquainting themselves with how each does their job.

“You have to go over everything again but it’s not the first time,” Dawson said. “So you’re re-introducing yourself to one another and ‘oh yeah I remember when you did that’ and ‘oh yeah I remember when you did that’. We’ll be fine.”

Lee wouldn’t say whether other teams showed interest once he became a free agent. It’s safe to say, however, his relationship with Dawson played a factor in choosing the Cardinals. Plus, Lee noted, there are several familiar faces in the Cardinals locker room, including wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a former college teammate of Lee’s at the University of Pittsburgh.

With Lee’s addition, the Cardinals feel they’ve solved one of their many problems from a 7-8-1 season a year ago. Even if that solution is one of an advanced age. Still, Lee trusts he and Dawson still have much to offer.

“I went out and held for Phil today and watched him kick some kicks. He doesn’t kick like a 42-year-old. He still kicks like he’s young. He’s still got a great leg,” Lee said. “It’s fun to just be around him and watch him work, too. It helped me a lot when I was with him with the 49ers and I anticipate learning more even at this point in time in my career from him.”

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