Donnie Jones

Former Eagles punter Donnie Jones signs with Chargers

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Former Eagles punter Donnie Jones signs with Chargers

The Chargers on Tuesday night signed former Eagles punter Donnie Jones. 

I don’t know what they’re paying him, but when I heard that, I couldn’t help but think about how much the Eagles could use him right now. 

Jones, 38, retired after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, then decided he wanted to keep playing. But when I caught up with him before the Atlanta game, he seemed pretty content with his life back in Louisiana. Perhaps once the games started getting played, he missed it even more. And there is some allure to playing in Los Angeles. 

In any case, the Eagles would be better off with Jones over Cameron Johnston right now. That’s not to say Johnston won’t become a great punter; but he’s been too inconsistent.

Johnston, who comes from Australia, has a monster leg. We know that. Johnston’s gross average of 51.5 yards and his net average of 44.0 yards lead the NFL. He even booted an 81-yarder in the preseason, but he hasn’t been nearly consistent enough this season and has struggled to pin teams inside the 20. Maybe with an aggressive coach like Doug Pederson, it’s more important to have a punter who can flip the field instead of a punter who can pin teams deep, but the Eagles have missed that element. 

Johnston has punted 20 times this season and has a league-high five touchbacks. The next-closest punter in the league has three. And he has pinned opposing teams inside the 20 just six times.

Jones, meanwhile, is simply the best punter in franchise history. He owns Eagles records for career net average, gross average and punts inside the 20. He’s the second-best punter I have ever covered after Shane Lechler, who replaced Jones in Houston and happens to be the best punter in NFL history. 

All of Dave Fipp’s special teams units have been lacking through four games this season and the punter is just a part of it. Johnston is still young in his NFL career and has the potential to be really good. But for a team with aspirations to defend a Super Bowl title, having Jones back certainly would help. 

But I guess there are bigger problems right now too. 

More on the Eagles

Cameron Johnston settling into role as Eagles punter

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Cameron Johnston settling into role as Eagles punter

As Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata drew a huge crowd around him at Eagles rookie camp last week, there’s a different Australian on the roster who actually has a chance to play this year. 

Not long after Mailata’s giant circle of reporters dissipated, just a few met with punter Cameron Johnston at his locker. The Australian and former Ohio State punter appears to be the guy after Donnie Jones left the team. 

Is he ready for that? 

“Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal,” Johnston said. “This time of the year, you’re just trying to work every single day to be ready for that opportunity.”

Johnston, 26, was with the Eagles last offseason but released at final cuts, making way for Jones to keep his spot for the fifth year in a row. After getting released, Johnston went back to Columbus, Ohio, and worked on the things he learned from his time with the Birds and worked on the things special teams coordinator Dave Fipp stressed. He's the only punter on the Eagles' 90-man roster. 

It won’t be easy to follow Jones as the Eagles’ punter. After all, Jones is probably the best punter in franchise history and during his five-year stint in Philadelphia was one of the best in the league.  

“He was a great punter,” Johnston said. “It was big to be able to learn from him, the punting and the holding and just the tips that he had. He had that long of a career and being that successful, you try to learn as much as you can.”

The holding aspect of Johnston’s job shouldn’t be overlooked either. He spent three years holding for the Buckeyes, but the Eagles have a new kicker from last offseason. Jake Elliott came in after Caleb Sturgis’ injury and won the job. All three specialist positions are held by new owners. 

The goal for Johnston is consistency. He knows the best specialists in the NFL are — more than anything else — consistent. In his eyes, that’s the key to sticking in the NFL. 

Johnston definitely has some talent. During his senior season at Ohio State, he had a 46.7-yard average, good for first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation. He also set Buckeye records for punts inside the 20 in his career (109) and in a season (31 in 2015). His career average of 44.9 yards per punt is second in Ohio State history.

It was sometime during those four years at Ohio State that he realized the NFL was a real possibility. 

“When I first moved to an American college, it was just trying to play for Ohio State and do the best you can there and try to win some games,” he said. “And during your time there, you kind of see this as an opportunity and the ultimate goal at the end of it.” 

Johnston is from Geelong, Australia, but his tape reached Ohio State special teams coach Kerry Coombs in the summer of 2013. Johnston, an Australian Rules Football player, had trained at Prokick Australia, based in Melbourne. 

When asked about fellow Aussie Mailata, Johnston said he was excited to see the big guy get drafted and is happy for his opportunity. 

For now, though, it seems like Johnston’s own opportunity is a little closer. 

Donnie Jones still wants to play, gets release from Eagles' reserve/retired list

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Donnie Jones still wants to play, gets release from Eagles' reserve/retired list

So, apparently Donnie Jones isn't quite ready to walk off into the sunset.

After announcing his retirement in late February, the punter on Wednesday requested and received his release from the Eagles' reserve/retired list, his agent Ken Harris told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Jones, who turns 38 years old in July, will now search for a new team ahead of his 15th NFL season.

Known as "Donnie Longball," Jones is the greatest punter in Eagles history. In his five seasons with the team, Jones became the franchise's all-time leader in gross punting average (45.37), net average (40.5) and career punts inside the 20 (138), while winning a Super Bowl ring in his final year (see story).

Jones has played 208 straight games, the third-longest streak in the NFL.

It appears that run isn't done yet.

"I am grateful for all those who have supported me throughout the years," Jones said in a statement back in February (see story). "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."