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Zastudil needed to be free-agent priority

TEMPE, Ariz. – In the larger scheme of free agency, Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil didn’t exactly seem like a high priority.

He only made $1.5 million last year. He’s 35. He’s been in the league for 12 years. Added up, that’s not the equation for a free agent who a team wants to pursue quickly.

But when it comes to Zastudil, it is.

Although he doesn’t throw or catch passes, or run in-between the tackles, Zastudil has become one of the Cardinals’ most potent offensive threats. When the offense fails on third down, it’s been Zastudil who regularly got the Cards out of jams the last three years, and especially in 2012. In three seasons with Arizona, he has downed 105 punts inside the 20, including a league-record 46 in 2012 and 35 in 2013, tying him for most in the NFL last season.

That’s why the Cardinals re-signed Zastudil, at 35, going into his 13th season, to a two-year deal on Monday. As long as he can keep flipping field position, he’ll be valuable to the Cardinals.

Arizona’s opponents began their drives off of punts on the 23-yard-line last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With so much real estate behind them, the Cards’ defense was able to be very effective off punts. The Cardinals allowed a league low .87 points per drive that started with a punt. They also had the highest percentage of drives that started with a punt that did not record a first down or touchdown, and Arizona had the lowest percentage of drives that started off punts that didn’t yield two first downs.

The Cardinals allowed touchdowns on just 9 percent and field goals on 7.7 percent of drives that started with punts. Zastudil’s punts also yielded 4.5 plays per drive, the fewest in the league.

In 2013, Zastudil punted 78 times for an average of 45.7 yards per kick.

Popular to contrary belief, the numbers show how important Zastudil was to re-sign as soon as possible.