With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn't far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with punter Chris Jones.
What's Been Good: If you look at the 2018 season in a vacuum, Chris Jones was solid once again in his duties as the Cowboys' punter. He punted 60 times on the year, allowing only 30 of those to be returned for an average of 8.5 yards per attempt. He downed opponents inside the 20-yard line 17 times, and he didn't surrender any punt return touchdowns. In the wildcard win against Seattle, he was a weapon, punting four times and allowing just 22 return yards while pinning the Seahawks to their red zone on numerous occasions. It was a decent if unspectacular season.
What's Been Bad: The problem comes when you look at 2018 compared the rest of Jones' underrated career. In the years leading up to last season, Jones had developed a deserved reputation for being un-returnable. In 2017, only 18 of his 66 punts were returned by opponents, for a grand total of 75 yards. That's an average of four yards of field position per punt returned. He also downed twice as many punts inside the 20 – 34 in 2017 as opposed to 17 in 2018. He was similarly effective during the playoff run of 2016. That year, he downed 25 punts inside the 20 and surrendered just 192 total return yards. In 2018, opponents managed 254 return yards against him, which was his highest total since 2013 – his first season as the full-time starter. Of course, some blame for this goes to the return team, which struggled last season more than other years. It's still curious, though, that 30 of Jones' punts were returned in 2018, which feels like a high number for a guy who has been an expert at directional kicking. It's not necessarily that Jones was bad, but it did dip a bit from the highs of the last few years.
2018 Highlight: We've gotten used to fake punt theatrics from Jones over the years, so it was a surprise and a disappointment that the Cowboys didn't dust off a fake for their punter to use in 2018. They did fake a punt against Philadelphia in Week 10, but it was Jeff Heath who had the honor of toting the rock. Instead of a fake, Jones' highlight would have to be his Week 13 performance against New Orleans. He only punted three times in that game, but his punting average of 51 yards and his net average of 45 yards were both significantly higher than his career averages. In a game that was decided by just three points, he limited the Saints to 17 return yards and pinned them deep twice.
What's Next: Last season might not have been the best of Jones' career, but it doesn't feel like time to hit the panic button. Despite his eight years of NFL experience, Jones still has yet to turn 30 and is far more athletic than your average NFL punter. Of course, in the world of NFL specialists, nothing is ever guaranteed. Literally no one would have ever predicted Dan Bailey would lose his job last summer until it happened. That said, Jones has proven himself dependable and valuable as both a leader and a player. He's under contract through 2022, and it'd be surprising if he's not the Cowboys' punter next fall.
Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: Chris Jones has been a model of consistency throughout his career with the Dallas Cowboys, but I have to admit there were situations last season where I thought that didn't appear to be the case. He was outstanding against the Seahawks in the playoffs, but not so good the following week against the Rams. There were back-to-back games against the Eagles and Saints where he was on his game but struggled later in the year against the Buccaneers and Giants. His net average was down slightly from previous seasons, but the biggest difference for Jones was his punts inside the 20. He had six less punts in 2018 -- but those numbers dipped from 34 to 17. What I will say was impressive about Jones -- and this is something that you have to think about week-to-week -- is that his punting average outdoors was slightly better than what he was able to do indoors. In this day and age it's hard for punters to be better outdoors than indoors in a controlled environment.