The youngest player on the Eagles’ roster, linebacker Don Cherry, was born on Sept. 27, 1994.
The oldest likely went to high school that day.
Donnie Jones was 14 then. Now, after turning 36 last month, he is entering his 13th NFL season. And last year might have been his best yet. So, sure, Jones is closer in age to his head coach than to his youngest teammate, but the veteran punter says he wants to keep playing as long as he can.
“I sure don’t feel 36,” Jones said Monday. “I know a lot of people see that [age] in the NFL and think, ‘He may only have one or two years left.’ Well, I say that’s a bunch of BS.
“Play as long as you want if you take care of yourself, keep being productive. And I’m going to continue to do it as long as I can.”
If Jones wants to play for several more seasons, there’s certainly precedent. Off the top of his head, Jones recited a list. He knew Houston’s punter Shane Lechler just turned 40, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is 43 and 49ers kicker Phil Dawson is 41.
Jones also pointed to Jeff Feagles, Sean Landeta and Matt Turk, all fellow punters who played into their 40s.
“I think age is overrated,” said long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, who is just a couple weeks younger than Jones. “[Jones] is phenomenal. He’s in great shape. He handles his business, diligent, hard-working. I think Donnie’s got plenty of years left in him.”
What has changed for Jones as he’s gotten older is his preparation. Last offseason, he had a long conversation with Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, who is just six years older than he is. Fipp told Jones if he wanted to continue to play at a high level, he would need to put forth more effort as he aged.
Jones admitted he used to kind of coast on his talent, but now he puts in more work during the offseason. He starts preparing for the next season — weight training, conditioning and kicking — much earlier in the year. It has become his biggest offseason focus, pushing golf out of the way.
He wants to keep playing for a while more, but Jones is entering the final year of the four-year contract he signed with the Eagles before the 2013 season. He has a base salary of $1.75 million in 2016.
“Not really focused on the contract part of it,” Jones said. “I just focus on what I have to do on the field. I know if I do that, all that other stuff will take care of itself. Ideally, I’d like to play here as long as I can and retire an Eagle. It really is a special place and hopefully I get many more years here.”
Playing 13-plus years in the NFL is a huge commitment, and the commitment becomes greater as age wages its battle against the body. Jones’ built-in support system has always been his wife Aubrie. The two started dating this month in 1999 and she’s been with him “through this whole thing.” The couple has two children: His son Weston is heading into third grade; his daughter Addison is heading into first.
As Jones spoke after Monday’s practice, he said his wife was at home watching both kids. The family splits its time between Louisiana and Philly, which can be tough, especially on the little ones.
But when asked if his wife is still on board for a few more years of football, Jones said, “She loves it.”
Aside from his relationship with his wife, one of the most important relationships Jones has is with veteran long-snapper Dorenbos. The two have been teammates for the last three seasons, but met way back in 2005 on the red carpet at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville.
They’ve been friends ever since and were pretty excited when Jones signed with the Eagles in 2013. During the season and in the offseason, the two are often together and they both plan to remain in touch once they’re no longer teammates.
It’s just they hope that day doesn’t come for a while. Jones’ production should help that cause.
Jones has already rewritten the Eagles’ record books as a punter. His gross punting average of 45.3 in his Eagles career ranks first in team history. Same with his career net average of 40.4 and his net average for a season of 41.6 in 2015. By the end of 2016, he should be the franchise leader in punts landing inside the 20.
When asked, Dorenbos agreed that 2015 was Jones’ best season yet.
“He was phenomenal,” Dorenbos said before slipping into a cheesy southern/old prospector accent. “Donnie Jones’ punting is like a fine wine, you know what I mean? Gets better with age.”
Dorenbos killed the accent: “He’s got plenty of years left in him.”