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Mailbag: Is Competition Coming at Punter?

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Do you see any competition for punter Chris Jones coming this year, by way of free agency or draft?– STEVE CRAIG / HENDERSON, NV

Johnny: Kickers and punters are theoretically easier to evaluate outside of factors like scheme or game situations, but in the past five seasons teams have mistakenly considered them positions they can get away with saving money and paid that cost with wins and losses (remember a guy whose name rhymes with Ban Daily?). I think new special teams coordinator John Fassel has an opportunity to evaluate Jones with a clean slate. His contract is affordable if he performs well, but if Fassel thinks a better option is out there the front office should allow him to prioritize it.

Nick: I think the Cowboys need to get better at the punter position. Jones has been here for a while now, and I'm not sure he was fully healthy last season. Still, his numbers decreased last year, which isn't always easy to dissect for a punter. But for seven straight years, Jones averaged at least 44 yards per punt and last year dipped to 41.6. It was also the first time in seven years he didn't have at least one punt over 60 yards. Again, it's not always an exact science to study stats for a punter because sometimes you don't want them to kick it as far as they can. But if you're on the eye test, it still seems like there is improvement needed at punter.

Who is the heir apparent to Tyron Smith? I think he's still playing at a high level when he's healthy. With yet another NFL season on his back and knees, I'm concerned that the Cowboys don't have an adequate long-term replacement for Smith.– JOEY SAYSON / SANTA MONICA, CA

Johnny: I think you need to be realistic about who is going to replace Tyron Smith when that time comes. He's one of the greatest Cowboys of all time. The term "heir apparent" is used for successors whose place in the line of succession can't be disputed. So, there's no heir apparent for Smith. I'm sure the Packers would love to have an heir apparent for Aaron Rodgers and the Rams wouldn't mind an heir apparent for Aaron Donald, but ultimately you have to take generational talents at whatever position you find them (if you're so lucky). Otherwise, you just move on to a starting-caliber player.

Nick: The Cowboys hope the heir apparent to Tyron Smith is in high school. That would be ideal. Some high school senior who is about to pick between one of the 4-5 elite schools in the country. Then he plays three years there, is an All-American twice and then by 2024 or 2025, the Cowboys draft him with the hopes he can replace the 11-time Pro Bowler in Tyron Smith. Obviously, that's a perfect scenario but I don't think the Cowboys just have a guy waiting in the wings. If something were to happen where they need a left tackle immediately, my guess is that Connor Williams could wind up playing tackle, if he's not going to do that already.

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