The roster turnover has officially begun. Free agency is now underway and the 2017 NFL Draft isn't far away. Over the next few weeks, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.
For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones who will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys' 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.
Today we'll continue the series with punter Chris Jones.
What's Been Good: Jones doesn't get the same fanfare as his special teams counterpart, Dan Bailey, but it really is remarkable how steady both of the Cowboys' kicking specialists have been. Since signing a two-year extension in 2015, Jones has been a model of reliability. He averaged roughly 46 yards per punt last season, with 25 of his 58 punts for the year being downed inside the 20-yard line. Jones' directional punting style hasn't allowed for much in the way of opposing returns, either. He allowed just 192 return yards on 58 attempts last year – an average of three return yards per punt.
It's a cliché in football, but Chris Jones' punting skills were hardly ever brought up during the 2016 season – which is an excellent indicator of how good he was.
What's Been Bad:It's fair to say Jones had struggles during the course of his career. He has at times has problems with his accuracy and his distance, and going several years back, his status as the Cowboys' starter wasn't always guaranteed.
That honestly feels like ancient history, though. From the 2014 playoff run to this most recent season, Jones has been one of the Cowboys' more reliable and underappreciated players.
2016 Highlight: It's a disservice to Jones' abilities as a punter that neither one of his 2016 highlights was an actual kick – but they were both fantastic plays.
It was fun to watch Jones shed the stereotype that punters aren't athletes during the Cowboys' Week 8 win against Philadelphia. The Dallas offense had struggled all night and was facing a 4th-and-8 trailing, 20-10, with just 4:55 to play in the third quarter.
Jones took his typical snap and looked prepared to punt, but instead took off toward the Eagles' empty right flank. He needed just nine yards, but he picked up 30, setting the Cowboys up for a field goal in an eventual overtime win.
As fun as that might have been, his true season highlight came against Detroit – and it broke the Internet.
With the Cowboys leading the Lions, 42-21, in the fourth quarter, Jones punted away to Detroit return man Andre Roberts. Credit to Roberts, he managed a 23-yard return and broke out to the left sideline en route to good field position.
But that was before he ran into Jones, who absolutely dumptrucked him on the sideline. Maybe it wasn't the best tackle in NFL history, but it was certainly one of the more crushing blows a punter has ever delivered. It was just another reminder that Jones is in fact an NFL athlete – regardless of what position he plays. The tackle went viral as the Cowboys cruised to an easy win.
What's Next: Punters don't typically make a big splash on the contract front, but Jones could be due for a payday in the near future. The Georgia native is scheduled to hit free agency in 2018, assuming the Cowboys don't try to re-sign him before then. On average, the top punter contracts in the league average about $3.5 million per season. Jones is currently making about half that. It's hard to guess what kind of contract Jones might command, but the Cowboys would be wise to lockdown a player with his reliability and talent.