The Dallas Cowboys have only had two full-time punters for the last 16 seasons; Chis Jones and Mat McBriar before him. After a few down years for Jones, though, it looks like the job may finally change hands again during the 2020 offseason.
Jones took over in 2012 when Dallas let McBriar leave in free agency. For several years, Chris distinguished himself with a great talent for aiming kicks so that they couldn’t be returned. He was one of the most analytically efficient punters in the NFL.
Unfortunately, things haven’t been so great the last two seasons. Jones’ punts have become much easier to return and his numbers have dropped significantly. In 2019, Chris was 34th in the NFL in net average (punt distance minus return yards).
Jones has two years left on his current contract and counts $2.4 million against the 2020 salary cap. Dallas would get $1.4 million in cap relief if they cut the punter this offseason.
It’s worth noting that some NFL punters make almost double what Jones does. But at the same time, some play for the league minimum. So that puts Chris right around the middle of the road for compensation at his position.
The real issue here is performance. If Jones was still playing at a high level then his contract would be a bargain. But given where the numbers have been lately, he’s suddenly looking like an overpaid veteran who’s ripe for release.
One factor that has to be discussed here is the change in Dallas’ special teams coaching. Jones’ statistical decline from 2018-2019 coincides with when Rich Bisaccia left the Cowboys and Keith O’Quinn served as Special Teams Coordinator.
Dallas’ special teams play has plummeted across the board during O’Quinn’s run as coach, and that is why the Cowboys have relieved him of those duties and brought in Jim Fassel as the new coordinator. Fassel is one of the true gurus of special teams in the NFL; as respected a name for that job as you could ask for.
Fassel will have a lot to say about who mans these positions now. He may feel that he can get Chris Jones back to his previous form and at least want to keep him through training camp.
On the other hand, Fassel may have a long list of punter options from around the football world and already know he wants to bring in as a replacement.
It’s important to note that losing Jones affects more than just punting. He’s also served as the holder on field goals and extra points for many years and has a chemistry with Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur that can’t be overlooked.
That said, Ladouceur is not under contract for 2020 so that may not be a factor going forward.
This is a decision that will come down to an evaluation of Chris Jones’ individual performance versus the contributing factors. Do the Cowboys still believe he can be a solid punter with improvement around him, or is it simply time to move on?