For the first time in the Doug Pederson-era, the Philadelphia Eagles are going into an offseason with long-term locks at kicker, punter, and long snapper.
For the longest time, special teams have been the Philadelphia Eagles calling card, dating all the way back to when John Harbaugh called the shots from 1998-2006, and a lot of that has to do with stability.
While the Andy Reid-era will be remembered fondly for stalwart players like Donovan McNabb, Trent Cole, and Jon Runyan, it was really the Eagles’ special teams unit that remained starkly consistent over the first decade of the 21st century.
From 2000-2009 the Eagles only had one kicker (David Akers), three punters (Dirk Johnson, Sean Landeta, and Sav Rocca) and two long snappers (Mike Bartrum and Jon Dorenbos). While it would be incredibly time-consuming (and really unnecessary) to see if any team in the league had fewer over the same time frame, it’s abundantly clear the Eagles were able to field a winning unit year, after year because the unit worked like a finely oiled machine.
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The same, however, can not be said for the subsequent decade.
From 2010-2018, the Eagles deployed 12 different specialists, five kickers (Akers, Alex Henry, Cody Parkey, Caleb Sturgis, and Jake Elliott), five punters (Rocca, Chas Henry, Mat McBriar, Donnie Jones, Cameron Johnston), and two long snappers (Dorenbos, and Rick Lovato). Sure, the actual units still remained among the best in the entire league, as Dave Fipp, hired in 2013, is a great coach, but inconsistent kicking and punting performances have without a doubt cost the Birds games over the last decade.
However, for the first time in the Doug Pederson-era, it looks like the Birds are entering a new league year with a collection of young specialists locked up for the foreseeable future.
Unlike in 2016, when Sturgis and Parkey dualed it out for the Eagles kicking contest, in 2017, when Sturgis went down in Week 1, and Elliott was stolen off the Bengals practice squad, or in 2018, when both Johnston and Lovato replaced Jones and Dorenbas, the Birds appear set going into 2019 (baring injury).
That’s right, the Eagles won’t have to hold a serious kicking, punting, or long snapping competition through training camp, and will instead enter 2019 with the same three starters (Elliott, Johnston, and Lovato) that they utilized against the New Orleans Saints during the Divisional Round of the playoffs, for the first time since Sturgis, Dorenbos, and Jones accomplished the feat in 2016.
Pretty impressive stuff.
Now granted, the Eagles will still need to address their kick AND punt returners moving forward, as Darren Sproles can’t be reliably counted on if he doesn’t retire, Golden Tate will be long gone, and DeAndre Carter is already a Houston Texan, but that’s another topic for another article (check back soon). While returners are the ‘sexy’ position that gets most of the praise on special teams, having a well oiled kicker-punter-long snapper unit is just as vital, maybe more so, for a team with serious championship aspirations.
With Elliott, Johnston, and Lovato all 26-years-old or younger (Jake is 24), Howie Roseman has the rare opportunity to lock in the trio into new, long-term deals and give Dave Fipp a strong young corp to build an elite position grouping for the foreseeable future, one that could rival the best in Philadelphia Eagles’ history.