The 2015 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Chip Kelly and his staff will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2014 roster. While the team was able to achieve 10-6 record, they fell short of making the playoff, and there are still many ways the Eagles roster could be improved upon. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 10, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2014 season. Today we'll continue this offseason review series by looking at the punter position. Click here for more reviews.
Stats: 0 tackles, 76 punts (t-12th), 43.8 avg (25th), 68 Long (15th), 3331 yards (15th), 0 punts blocked, 7 touchbacks (t-7th most), 9.2 TB% (26th), 34 IN20 (t-1st), 44.7% IN20% (1st), 38.9 Net punting average (22nd)
Review: The numbers show that 34-year-old Jones isn't as good as he was in 2013. His average is down over a yard from 44.9, his touchback percentage increased by over 3%, and his net punting average is down 1.6 yards. Jones is hardly a power punter at this stage in his career. But where he does excel is at downing punts deep in enemy territory. He led the NFL in punts that were downed inside the opponent's 20. Part of these numbers are also due to the Eagles' excellent coverage unit.
BGN's Mark Saltveit discussed Jones' performance in length during the season. Here's what he concluded:
"The Eagles are definitely kicking more from short fields in 2014. The average yard line punted from has jumped fully five yards from the latter half of 2013, going from the 33.5 to the 38.7, and the percent past the 40 has risen from 40% to 47%. The Birds have kicked from midfield or enemy territory 14 times already this year, vs. only 5 in the comparable period last year.
Looking just at shorter field kicks, though, some change in quality is noticeable. 77.3% of those punts (17/22) were placed inside the 20 this year, but in 2013 it was 87.5% (14/16). On the other hand the number pinned down inside the 10 has jumped from 4 (25%) to 7 (32%).
The biggest deterioration has been the growth in touchbacks. Last year, Jones was phenomenal, with only one touchback in the final 8 games of the year (and that was kicked from the 39). He already has five touchbacks in 2014.
What does this all mean, then?
The Eagles are punting from further down field this year, and it's affecting the punting results. Donnie Jones has a lot more touchbacks, but he is also pinning the ball deep inside the 10 yard line more often. Given the strength of the Eagles' defense this year, this looks more like a high risk/high reward strategy than any deterioration in Jones' skill.
After all, the Birds already have two touchdowns on blocked punts deep in enemy territory. Creating more opportunities for punts out of the end zone is a shrewd strategy, and worth a few touchbacks."
As long as Jones continues to down punts inside the 20, he'll be valuable despite his lack of pure power. Though it would be ideal to have both, of course.
Who Could Leave
The Eagles could cut Jones for a savings of about $1.4 million, but then they wouldn't have a punter.
Who Could Sign
Signing an undrafted rookie free agent punter to split punting repetitions with Jones during the off-season could be a possibility. The great Jimmy Kempski named Michigan State's Mike Sadler as a possible target.