Donnie Jones

Remembering the origin of Donnie 'Longball' Jones

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Remembering the origin of Donnie 'Longball' Jones

Few punters enjoy the level of fanfare that surrounded Donnie Jones during his five seasons with the Eagles, but he wasn’t always a star.

When Jones signed with the Eagles in 2013, he was just another anonymous free-agent punter. He wouldn’t come to be known as “Donnie Longball” until later that year.

Jones’ rise in popularity began Week 11 against Washington with a 70-yard punt that likely saved the Eagles from a humiliating defeat.

Despite amassing a 24-0 lead after three quarters, the Eagles were running out of gas. Washington scored back-to-back touchdowns to cut the deficit to eight in the fourth quarter, then forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with over three minutes remaining. Another score felt inevitable.

The ensuing punt pinned Washington’s offense at its own 4-yard line, giving a fatigued Eagles defense the margin for error it so desperately needed to close out the win. The drive came within 18 yards of the end zone, where finally Fletcher Cox pressured Robert Griffin III into an ill-advised throw intercepted by Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds remaining.

Jones finished with six punts for 50.7 yards per attempt — a season high. Four of his kicks were downed inside Washington’s 20-yard line, including the bomb at the end to help secure an Eagles victory.

Maybe the Eagles would’ve won without a 70-yard punt. Maybe they wouldn’t have. Either way, Jones could’ve revealed in his 15 minutes of fame, then faded back into relative obscurity, like a lot of specialists.

Except Jones outdid himself in the Eagles’ very next game coming off of a bye week.

If Jones played an exceptional game against Washington, his efforts could be described only as Herculean vs. the Cardinals. And if he was merely one of a handful of heroes in the previous win, he was legitimately the most valuable player the following contest.

The Eagles called upon Jones to punt eight times against the Cardinals, including five straight possessions at one point in the second half. Of those punts, seven were downed inside the opposing 20 — the NFL record is eight — with a 44.3 average and a long of 69.

The Eagles edged the Cardinals by three, 24-21. It wasn’t just one memorable kick. Each time Jones stepped on the field was pivotal.

In those two games alone, Jones pinned 11 of 14 punts inside the opponents’ 20 with a 46.8 average. His kicks totaled 655 yards compared to just three return yards. With that performance, he became the fourth punter in NFL history to win Special Teams Player of the Week in consecutive games and the first since 1999.

Jones became an instant Eagles legend in the process.

It didn’t hurt Jones was the first quality punter the franchise had in years. He remained a model of consistency for the remainder of his Eagles tenure. There also aren't a whole lot at that position — for any team — who ever made quite that level of impact in one game, let alone two.

Jones earned his reputation, he earned his place as an Eagles great, and it’s not at all far-fetched to suggest there might never be another punter as beloved and embraced.

10 Roob stats in honor of Eagles' greatest punter

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10 Roob stats in honor of Eagles' greatest punter

Donnie Jones was already 33 years old and going into his 10th NFL season when he arrived in Philadelphia.

Five years later, he leaves as the greatest punter in Eagles history.

Jones, who announced his retirement Tuesday after 14 seasons (see story), goes out on top, having finished his career with one of the greatest seasons ever by a punter 37 years old and with a Super Bowl ring. 

I'll bet you didn't think I could come up with 10 Donnie Jones stats. Guess what!

1. Jones averaged 45.3 yards per punt this year, second-highest in NFL history by a punter 37 years or older. Shane Lechler, who replaced Jones in Houston after the 2012 season, is the only other punter to average over 45 yards per punt at 37 or older.

2. Jones’ average of 46.1 after he turned 35 is second-highest in NFL history by a punter after turning 35. Lechler averaged 47.8 after turning 35. Lechler replaced Jones in Houston after the 2012 season.

3. Jones had three seasons averaging 45 yards per punt after turning 35. Lechler had more than such season after turning 35. And only 10 other punters in NFL history even had one such season.

4. Jones punted seven times in the 2017 postseason. Five inside the 20, one touchback, one fair catch. And zero punt return yards. In his last 10 career games, Jones punted 41 times, allowing just 38 return yards. The Eagles this year became the first Super Bowl champion to not allow a single opposing punt return yard during the postseason since the 1990 Giants. Their punter was former Eagle Sean Landeta.

5. Jones’ 50,500 regular-season punt yards are seventh-most in NFL history. Stretched end to end, those punt yards would go from the Linc to West Chester.

6. Jones is one of 23 punters in NFL history to punt 1,000 or more times. His career average of 45.5 is third-highest of those punters, behind only Lechler (47.6) and Andy Lee (46.4).

7. Jones leaves the Eagles with the top four net punting averages in franchise history: 41.6 in 2015, 40.7 in 2016, 40.6 this past year and 40.5 in 2013. Next-highest is Sav Rocca’s 39.0 in 2010. 

8. Over the last eight years, Jones had nearly five times more punts inside the 20 as touchbacks (236 to 52). As an Eagle, he had 144 inside the 20 and 33 touchbacks.

9. Jones finished his career with eight seasons averaging 45.0 yards or better. Only Lechler (17 seasons) and Lee (10) had more such seasons. Thomas Morstead and Mike Scifres also had eight.

10. Jones’ 45.3 average this past season is third-highest ever by a punter in his 14th season, behind — of course — Lechler (47.6 in 2013) and Lee (47.3 this year). 

Donnie Jones is going out on top

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Donnie Jones is going out on top

Donnie Longball is going out a champion. 

After 14 seasons in the NFL, Eagles punter Donnie Jones announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday morning. 

During those 14 seasons, Jones played for five different teams, but had been with the Eagles for the last five. At 37 years old, he helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl in franchise history. 

“After 14 seasons in the NFL, I have decided to retire so that I can spend more time with my family," Jones said in a statement released by the team. "I am grateful for all those who have supported me throughout the years. Specifically, I would like to thank Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson, and the entire Eagles organization for allowing me to be a part of their family for the past five seasons. I will truly miss my teammates, coaches, friends, and the best fans in the NFL. 

"Although I am retiring, I will always be an Eagle and will forever have a special place in my heart for the city of Philadelphia. It is a great honor to be a part of the first Super Bowl championship team in Eagles history and there is no better way to finish my career.”

Jones joined the Eagles in 2013 and went on to spend the next five years becoming the greatest punter in team history. He's the Eagles' all-time leader in gross punting average (45.37), net average (40.5) and career punts inside the 20 (138) (see Roob's Donnie Jones stats).

As he retires, Jones leaves behind a consecutive-games-played streak of 208, the third-longest in the NFL. 

Jones was a seventh-round pick of the Seahawks in 2004 and played in 214 regular season games. He was an All-Pro in 2008 and 2009 in St. Louis. 

Aside from being one of the more solid punters in the league throughout his time in Philadelphia, he also became one of the most well-liked players in the locker room despite being a specialist and the oldest guy on the roster. 

“We want to congratulate Donnie Jones on reaching the pinnacle of his career and retiring as a Super Bowl champion," the Eagles said in a statement. "Donnie is a professional in every sense of the word and we wish him all the best in retirement. We owe much of our recent special teams success to Donnie, as evidenced by the numerous franchise punting records he set during his five-year run with the Eagles. We will miss Donnie’s ability on the field, but will also miss his enthusiastic personality and the daily commitment he made to engaging with our community and our fan base.”

Before the 2016 season, Jones told NBC Sports Philadelphia that his goal was to play as long as he could. He thought he had much more left than just one or two seasons. He ended up playing just two more and it seems like going out a champion was appealing to him. 

The only Eagles player who could legally have a drink when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl, it was pretty clear how much the opportunity to play in Super Bowl LII meant to Jones. "I've been in this league a long time and in my 14th year to have an opportunity to play for a world championship, it means everything," Jones said in the run-up to the big game. "I look back at the sacrifices I've made, different cities I've lived in, moving my wife and kids around, countless hours of preparation and practice, and finally it's all paying off. I couldn't be happier about the opportunity."

With Jones gone, the Eagles still have another punter on their roster. The Birds brought back Cameron Johnston, who was with them during training camp before last season. Johnston went undrafted out of Ohio State in the 2017 draft. He was the Big Ten punter of the year as a senior and his 46.7-yard average was fifth in the nation. 

The Eagles will also see some slight salary cap relief from Jones' retirement. Jones was set to have a cap hit of $1.875 million for this upcoming season.