Now that free agency has hit, the focus is shifting towards the draft. 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:
On an ever-changing roster, Chris Jones' presence is becoming a rare constant. He combines with veteran long snapper L.P. Ladouceur to form two thirds of a special teams battery that has worked together for the better part of a decade. Obviously, that battery lost a member when Dan Bailey was cut in 2018, but it's a bit of an understatement to say there's some chemistry between the Cowboys' long snapper, punter and (don't forget) holder.
On top of that, Jones has been reliable – though not always spectacular – since he assumed full-time punter duties in 2013. At times, he has played like a Pro Bowler and at times he has struggled. Regardless, he's been a rare consistency on a team that has turned over most of its roster in the last three years.
What's Been Bad:
There's no way around it: the last two years have not been Jones' best.
Consider this: in 2017, Jones downed 34 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line and only surrendered 75 return yards. This past season, he downed 18 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line and surrendered 154 return yards. That's roughly a 50% drop in both categories.
And it can't be called a fluke. Jones' 2018 season was actually worse, as he surrendered a whopping 254 return yards and had a net punting average of just 39.6. This is probably the worst extended stretch of his career since he took over the job full-time.
Jones has two seasons left on his four-year, $8.7 million contract. His $2.1 million salary is middle-of-the-pack, as far as NFL punters go. So it's not like his salary is weighing down the Cowboys' cap.
At the same time, the performance hasn't met the level of expectation.
There's a couple considerations here – and some variables that are worth considering.
It's theoretically possible the Cowboys could release Jones and seek to find younger, cheaper production at the position. That often happens when expensive veterans cease to produce at the desired level, and the Cowboys have done it many times in the past – DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey all come to mind.
Having said that, the Cowboys' coaching changes will probably help determine this. They just hired an experienced special teams coordinator in John Fassel – a guy who is widely considered one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL. If the Cowboys opt to move forward with Jones as their punter, it's likely because Fassel sees things he can work with.
If Jones is the guy, there's plenty of reason for optimism. Not only were the Los Angeles Rams one of the best special teams units in the NFL for much of Fassel's tenure, they were also among the league leaders in fake punts and kicks.
That's intriguing for multiple reasons. Not only could Fassel help Jones re-discover his efficiency, but he could also use Jones' athleticism to make the Cowboys' special teams one of the most fun and unpredictable units in the league.