Arizona Cardinals punt-return game is virtually nonexistent

Through five weeks, the Arizona Cardinals punt-return unit is one of the least-productive groups in the National Football League

It would be hard to argue with the offseason that the front office of the Arizona Cardinals had. A phenomenal trade brought superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the offense. Productive performers like De’Vondre Campbell, Jordan Phillips and Devon Kennard were added to the defense.

One aspect of the team that was neglected, however, was the Cards punt-return unit. One member of the squad who excelled in that particular area was Pharoh Cooper, a waiver-wire pickup of the organization back in 2018. The former Los Angeles Rams draft pick was good enough, in fact, to be voted onto the 2017 Pro Bowl roster as a punt-return specialist for the National Football Conference.

But when the free-agent signing period rolled around this past March, Arizona general manager Steve Keim made a mistake. The franchise’s top talent evaluator undervalued Cooper. Instead of retaining the talented return man, Keim stood idly by as the Carolina Panthers inked the speedy Cooper to a one-year contract.

Without a bevy of other options, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers decided that wide receiver Christian Kirk would be the best candidate to replace Cooper. There was some talk that second-year pass-catcher Andy Isabella would be handed the job, but Rodgers ultimately went with Kirk. To say it was a bad choice would be an understatement.

Through the first five games, Kirk has run back six punts for a grand total of just 20 yards. That averages out to 3.3 yards per return, an extremely inadequate number any way you slice it. To make matters even worse, Kirk muffed a punt during the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win over the New York Jets that was miraculously recovered by teammate Kevin Peterson.

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It’s obvious that Kirk is not cut out to be a punt returner. At this point, almost anyone else (Isabella included) would have to be considered an upgrade. The quicker the Cardinals come to agree with that sentiment, the better.