SPECIAL TEAMS are very special to the Eagles.
That was evident Friday afternoon when de facto general manager Howie Roseman spoke publicly for the first time since the Sam Bradford trade, more than two months ago, to talk about how excited the organization is to have signed Chris Maragos and Jon Dorenbos to three-year contract extensions. These are the first Eagles in-season extensions since 2009. (Later Friday, the team announced a three-year extension for punter Donnie Jones. Kicker Caleb Sturgis got an extension through 2017 before the season began.)
“It’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here, is have a really strong unit, and also, the individual guys you’re talking about, the leadership they bring, the class they exemplify, on and off the field, is so important for us, really,” Roseman said. “As we’re building this and trying to get some continuity, they were guys that we really saw (being) here going forward.”
Roseman said talks progressed quickly after he approached representatives of Maragos, a 29-year-old safety who leads coverage and return units, and Dorenbos, 36, the team’s reliable long snapper for the last decade.
“Our goal is to keep as many of our good players, as many of the guys who are the fiber and the backbone of this team as possible,” Roseman said.
Maragos came here as a free agent in 2014, after being a special-teams cog for this weekend’s opponent, Seattle, on its march to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. Both he and Dorenbos were scheduled to become free agents this offseason.
“The biggest thing for me as I evaluated it, I always looked back and I thought about the guys I’m playing with. The relationships I’ve built with these guys – if I were ever to leave, I just wouldn’t feel right, knowing that I’m just kind of leaving them behind,” Maragos said. “We got unfinished business here that we need to take care of, and I really want to be a part of that.”
Dorenbos has played 158 successive games as an Eagle, four short of Harold Carmichael’s franchise record.
“I’m super-happy,” Dorenbos said Friday. “Just thankful. I’ve been here a long time. For them to say, ‘Hey look, we want to keep you around, you’ve still got it,’ – really happy.”
Since Dorenbos was entering the final year of his contract when he made the finals of America’s Got Talent during the preseason, there was speculation he might be ready to move on to a career as a full-time magician.
“I’ve always literally taken it one day at a time, one opportunity at a time,” he said. “This place is personal to me. I love it here, and I love these people. I want to be a part of winning. This team is going in the right direction, and I’m real excited.”
Jones, 36, is the franchise’s all-time leading punter in terms of gross, net and punts downed inside the 20, in his fourth Eagles season. Roseman praised his “consistency, reliability, accountability and professionalism.”
Fans probably knew how big a priority the kick and punt units were already; in fact, before the contract extensions came up, this was going to be a story about the Birds’ kickoff return unit, which is averaging an NFL-best 33.7 yards per return, 6.2 yards better than the second-best team, Miami. The Eagles are tied for third in punt returns, averaging 14.1 yards, and they lead the league in starting field position after kickoffs (29.8) and opponent starting field position after kickoffs (22.5). Thirteen of the 18 kickoffs the Birds have returned have gone 20-plus yards, the highest rate of such returns in the league.
The fulcrum for all this, obviously, the guy who supervises Maragos, Dorenbos and Jones, is special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp, one of a handful of assistants Doug Pederson kept on when Pederson succeeded Chip Kelly in January.
“I just think he’s a great teacher, No. 1,” Pederson said Friday, when asked what makes Fipp effective. “He keeps things simple; the schemes are relatively the same each week. The other thing that I’ve noticed with being around Dave, too, is he spends a lot more time doing drill work in practice, as opposed to just running kickoff return after kickoff return after kickoff return or punt. He’s constantly doing drill work with the guys and teaching them fundamentals, and I think that’s a big part of why he’s had success there on our teams.”