In a flurry of moves to kick off free agency, the Eagles made three significant decisions that make this a better football team in 2014. They were the kind of reasonable moves that months of planning preparing allowed.
- Signing punter Donnie Jones to a three-year contract is something that everyone hoped would happen. The Eagles brought Jones to town in the free-agency period of 2013 on a one-year deal and the veteran responded with one of the finest seasons of his storied career and one of the best in the established history of this franchise. He set a team record with a 40.4-yard net punting average and 33 kicks landed softly inside the 20-yard line. His gross punting average of 44.9 yards was the third highest in the history of the Eagles.
We know how shaky the punting game has been at times in recent seasons. The Eagles turned to Jones, a two-time All-Pro punter after his experience with four NFL teams, including Houston in 2012. And Jones was, flat out, brilliant. He was named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week in successive games for only the fourth time in league history. Consistency, professionalism and clutch kicking defined Jones' performance, and the job he and the coverage units did establishing field position went a long way for the Eagles in their NFC East-winning run in 2013.
- The decision to release safety Patrick Chung was anticipated after Chung's struggles in 2013. The Eagles signed him as a free agent and Chung did not play up to the expectations in mind. A shoulder injury suffered early in the season didn't help, and Chung didn't provide enough impact to make him part of the picture this season. Safety, of course, was a prime area to watch entering free agency.
- With that in mind, the Eagles next agreed to terms with safety Malcolm Jenkins after Jenkins played five seasons with the New Orleans Saints. A first-round draft pick in 2009 from Ohio State, Jenkins was moved from cornerback to safety in his season season and became a productive starter for the Saints. He's got good size at 6 feet, 204 pounds and his coverage skills will be a plus in this defense. Jenkins, the 14th pick in the 2009 draft, helped New Orleans in a variety of roles in his rookie campaign on defense and on special teams and then became a full-time safety. In his time with the Saints, Thomas had 358 total tackles, 4 1/2 quarterback sacks, six forced fumbles and six interceptions (two for touchdown returns).
"Very excited about being a part of the @Eagles organization," Jenkins Tweeted on Tuesday. "I loved every minute I spent in New Orleans but all good things come to an end. Who Dat fans I hope I continue to have your love and support as we part ways! Thank you for everything!"
Said NFL Network's Brian Baldinger: "He was a good free safety for New Orleans and he will be a good fit here in Billy Davis' defense. He can cover and be a solid center fielder and that's going to help the Eagles.
"He likes the game of football and he's been durable. When are drafted as a corner, you have that instinct to cover tight ends that you have to, and carry the seam routes if you have to. I just think he's a really good, solid football player."
The Eagles announced those three moves in the first 90 minutes of free agency, a fun burst of activity during an extremely active time around the NFL. They retained a punter who had an All-Pro-caliber season in 2013 and they added a young safety in the prime of his career, a good Day 1 performance as they continue to follow the blueprint they've put in place for for the 2014 campaign.
To sum everything up, and you must keep it all in perspective, the Eagles retained wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin prior to free agency and extended the deals of key offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce. Good moves. All of them. A fine start as the offseason moves fast, a million miles a minute in the NFL