PHILADELPHIA – Anytime a somewhat known commodity hits the open market at the punter position in the NFL, it tends to emphasize the Eagles’ curious kid-glove treatment of Arryn Siposs.
Tampa Bay drafted a punter in the fourth round this year, Georgia’s Jake Camarda, a clear indication the Bucs were looking for an upgrade over veteran Bradley Pinion.
The potential competition in Tampa didn’t even get to the summer as the early returns on the competition made the Bucs comfortable enough to move forward with the rookie after a season in which Pinion slipped in his dual role of punter and kickoff specialist for the Bucs.
The raw numbers for Pinion headed in the wrong direction last season — declining from 45.2 yards per punt in 2020 to 42.5 last season with a touchback percentage that 85% to 79.8%. His punting average was No. 29 and dead last among eligible players, three spots south of Siposs.
Overall, though, Pinion has been a capable NFL punter over seven seasons with San Francisco and the Bucs with a 43.7 career punting average since arriving in the league as a fifth-round pick out of Purdue in 2015 and a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay after the 2020 season.
This isn’t about an advocation to replace Siposs with Pinion but the latter’s availability is another reminder that perhaps a competition is in order especially after Siposs faltered in the second half of the 2021 season, finishing 24th in net average out of the 29 qualifying punters at 38.8 yards per punt and the 26th in gross average at 43.9.
The bigger issue for Siposs, 29, was that in the final six games — including the playoff loss in Tampa — he was dead last at just 37.0 yards per punt.
“It doesn’t always have to do with Arryn,” special teams coordinator Michael Clay said when discussing the struggles. “Arryn started out the year very well and you guys probably saw that. Just like everything else in life, there are ebbs and flows, there are peaks and valleys, and yes, it’s a production-based business. I understand that. We all understand that in the NFL.
“… We still have confidence in Arryn to get the job done.”
The Eagles’ philosophy when it comes to specialists seems to be that 90-man roster spots are valuable and if they need one at some point, it’s easy to bring them in and get them up to speed.
“Howie [Roseman], myself and Nick [Sirianni], we try and have as much communication on what’s going on in terms of the whole roster,” Clay explained. “It’s a very tough game of, ‘All right, there’s a 90-man roster, who’s out there. Is it going to really help our team get better?’”
On the surface, it’s hard to argue with that sentiment unless you look at recent history and the organization’s last two punters — Cam Johnston and Siposs himself.
Johnson, who is now in Houston, benefitted from the last Philadelphia punting competition in 2017 when he nearly beat out the venerable Donnie Jones, who was nearing the end of his stellar career. The Eagles ultimately defaulted to Jones, largely because the veteran was the better holder for placekicks at the time, and went on to win Super Bowl LII Jones during his last year in Philadelphia.
The Eagles told Johnston to stay ready and brought him back on a futures deal with Jones retiring (he ultimately returned to punt in 12 more games with the LA Chargers). The intent was to give Johnston the job and the Aussie ended up being the team’s punter for the next three seasons until Houston came with a nice offer in free agency.
To replace Johnston, the Eagles looked toward another Australian in Siposs, not because of the Melbourne native’s Australian Rules experience or even his time in SEC with Auburn, but because Siposs gave Pro Bowl punter Jack Fox a nice run in 2020 training camp with the Lions, so much so that Detroit kept him around on the practice squad for a good part of the season in the COVID era when everyone was one failed test away from missing a game.
The thesis here is both Johnston and Siposs got better to the point they became NFL punters through direct competition, not the thought of someone in a different camp lurking.
When training camp begins for the Eagles on July 26 it should be Siposs vs. [insert name] with the better man winning.
Instead, the plan seems to be break glass in case of emergency if Siposs falters.
“We’ve done some things in the offseason, and he’s changed his body to be stronger through the core,” Clay said of Siposs. “It’s a long 20-game season, so you have to keep your body in tiptop shape. That’s just going to help him just get better as a football player.
“He’s still very raw, so we’re going to still work with him, and hopefully get him more consistent and more confident as the season goes on. “We still have immense confidence in Arryn not only from his punting standpoint because we still think he has a lot of talent in that leg and it’s just him unlocking it not for a three-game stretch, but for an entire season.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for JAKIB Sports.