After 22 NFL seasons, punter Jeff Feagles retires. On Friday, at the Timex Center, the clock struck twelve. Giants punter Jeff Feagles announced his retirement. Preceded by a feckless Matt Allen, Feagles was a welcome addition to the Giants in 2003. Undoubtedly, Feagles will be remembered for his longevity as well as being an adroit coffin-corner punter. At his farewell press conference, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin exclaimed, “One of the greatest Giants of all time.” Coughlin's effusive praise of Feagles has a hint of hyperbole. Was Feagles an all time great punter? Was he better than former Giants' punters Dave Jennings and Sean Landeta?
What baseline can we use to measure a punters effectiveness? Sports Illustrated developed a punter rating system. According to their number crunching, Feagles was not even in the top 5. Feagles placed eighth.
Furthermore, Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats takes this a step further. Burke looked at field position of punts. Based on Burke's formula, Feagles and the Giants were not even in the top 10. He has Feagles ranked 22nd. In fairness to Feagles, both statistical modules, analyze Feagles' last season. These results are just a snapshot of an otherwise long impressive NFL career.
Although Feagles claimed wear and tear was the root cause for him calling it quits, we have to consider other factors. Based on the aforementioned two metrics, last year's mediocre performance had to play a role in Feagles decision to retire. Additionally, if he decided to play for one more year, he was not guaranteed a spot on the roster. Even before the Giants drafted Matt Dodge, the Giants signed Jy Bond. Whether Bond makes the team punting or serving as a kickoff specialist, supposedly, he can blast the football. Apparently, this is the new trend in the NFL. Teams wants guys who can boom the ball. This suggests Feagles who made his living as a directional kicker has become a dinosaur. And with him retiring, his breed is apparently extinct.
As for Coughlin's remark on Feagles being one of the greatest Giants, we have to believe he was being subjective. If we examine markers of former Giants punters which include notables such as Dave Jennings and Sean Landeta, we will get a different point of view. From the book, New York Giants: The Complete Illustrated History, Feagles is not a leader in any of the punting categories. Surprisingly, in the most punts inside the 20 career and most inside the 20 for a season, Feagles is not at the top of the list.
Most inside the 20 yard line career
1. Dave Jennings 170
2. Sean Landeta 141
3. Jeff Feagles 132
Most inside the 20 yard line, single season
1. Brad Maynard 33 (1997,1998)
2. Mike Horan 32 (1996)
3. Brad Maynard 31 (1999)
4. Jeff Feagles 31 (2003)
In conclusion, the NFL is a business. A Bill Parcells quote is apt here. In 1985, during a mini-camp, Parcells pulled Dave Jennings aside. Parcells told Jennings, "I just want you to know," Parcells said, "that if I can find a younger punter who can do what you do, I'm going to keep him." Needless to say, with Feagles' body wearing down and his 2009 mediocre performance, we can speculate he did not want to get cut. Therefore, Feagles went out on his own terms.