Thursday, March 13, 2014
Eagles reinforce special teams commitment
By Ashley Fox
Chip Kelly values special teams. He understands the importance of field position. And Kelly is not afraid to invest in players who can help shorten the field for the Eagles and lengthen it for the opposition.
On Tuesday, the Eagles signed the 33-year-old punter to a three-year, $6 million contract that included $1 million in guaranteed money. Jones signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum with Philadelphia before last season, then set season franchise records with a 40.4 net punting average and by pinning 33 of his punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
On Wednesday, the Eagles agreed to terms with free-agent linebacker Braman on a two-year contract. The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Braman was a rookie free agent with Houston in 2011 and in 2012 was a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams after blocking two punts for the Texans, returning one for a touchdown.
Jones, who played with Braman for one season in Houston, called Braman "a war daddy on special teams."
Also Wednesday, the Eagles agreed to a three-year contract with Maragos, a free-agent safety who during four years with San Francisco and Seattle made 34 special teams tackles in 46 regular-season games.
The message was clear: Kelly wants the Eagles to invest in all three phases of football, not just the offense and defense.
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"When I first signed here last year, that was one thing that both [special teams] coach [Dave] Fipp and coach Kelly really stressed was obviously the importance of special teams," Jones said Wednesday. "Especially for the head coach to say it, value it and invest the time and money to find guys that are going to help us out on special teams says a lot."
Because he played for the veteran minimum in 2013, Jones either had to re-sign with the Eagles again for the veteran minimum before free agency began or wait to sign a more lucrative deal after the new league year began Tuesday. Of course Jones wanted more than the veteran minimum and the Eagles knew he had earned it. Jones said he never seriously considered signing elsewhere even though his agent fielded calls from other teams.
"This has gotten to be a very attractive place for guys to come play," Jones said.
Of his accomplishments last season, which included ranking third in Eagles history in gross punting average (44.9), Jones said the one he valued the most was his punts inside the 20s. Two were particularly noteworthy: One late in the game against Washington that precipitated a drive that ended with a Robert Griffin III interception, and one in the season finale against Dallas that pinned the Cowboys deep in their own territory in the final minutes.
Jones proved that, despite playing for teams with indoor stadiums for six years, he is more than just a dome punter, as his critics often have said.
"I think I proved something to them," Jones said, "but I think I also proved something to myself. I felt really good about the way I performed. Obviously everybody's going to have their opinions."
He added: "It doesn't stop there, though. ... Field possession is huge in the game. I don't want to slow down. I want to keep going. I feel I've got plenty years left. I just want to go out and make the most out of my opportunity."