FELIX JONES once set a Cowboys franchise record in a playoff game against the Eagles, blazing 73 yards over right tackle, untouched, for a touchdown, back on Jan. 9, 2010, as part of a 34-14 Dallas humiliation of the Birds that ended the Donovan McNabb era.
Had the Eagles been able to acquire Jones that offseason, fans would have danced in the streets. But sports years are kind of like dog years. That playoff game was so long ago, Jeremiah Trotter was a starter on the defense that couldn't flag Jones down.
Jones' signing to a 1-year free-agent deal yesterday occasioned no more than mild enthusiasm.
On that January night in the Cowboys' brand-new dome, Jones seemed to be making his case for the stardom that was forecast when Dallas selected Jones 22nd overall in the first round of the 2008 draft. The Eagles, picking 19th in that draft, got an offer from Carolina that enticed them to trade out of the first round instead of selecting Jones, a favorite of then-general manager Tom Heckert. Heckert ended up trading for Lorenzo Booker to fill the backfield role that might have belonged to Jones.
Booker was a huge disappointment in Philadelphia, and Jones ultimately became almost as big a disappointment in Dallas. A succession of injuries kept Jones from ever grasping a fulltime job; DeMarco Murray is the Cowboys' go-to back now, and Dallas was quite comfortable letting Jones drift into free agency this offseason, where he did not find a clamoring throng of suitors. The Bengals, the Eagles and the Patriots had him in for looks. Had any of those teams been blown away, Jones would have signed more than a 1-year deal.
"Things just didn't go right, as far as the injuries and things, but you know, that's how the game is. You've got to keep pushing on, keep moving," Jones said yesterday at NovaCare, when asked if he'd felt he was on the cusp of stardom after gaining 148 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles in that playoff victory. "Things don't happen the way you plan 'em. I'm just happy to be here, I'm excited about the opportunity."
"It's a little interesting" to move from the hated Cowboys to the Eagles, Jones said.
Jones, 5-10, 215, is coming here to add some veteran polish to the group of runners backing up LeSean McCoy. Bryce Brown showed promise as a rookie but remains extremely raw, after essentially skipping college. Chris Polk had a nice training camp last year, has never carried the ball in a game. One of the first things McCoy said during new coach Chip Kelly's first minicamp last month was that he was going to need help - the dizzying pace of Kelly's attack, and a presumed bigger role for the running game, will make depth important.
Jones' yards per carry dipped from 4.5 in 2011 to 3.6 in 2012, but that might have had something to do with the Cowboys' offensive line; Murray's average went from 5.5 to 4.1. Jones has averaged 4.8 yards per carry during his career (2,728 yards on 569 carries).
Jones was a feared kickoff returner early in his career - blazing to a 27.1-yard average as a rookie, which included a 98-yard touchdown return against the Eagles - but there, too, there has been erosion. Jones returned 11 kicks last season for a 21.5-yard average.
Jones was asked several times yesterday how he seems himself at this point, if he is resigned to being a complement rather than a star. He said his focus right now is on learning Kelly's offense, which he said looks like "a fun system." Larger questions can wait. It's interesting, though, that even at Arkansas, Jones was a complement, then to Darren McFadden.
Jones said returning kicks is "something I always did, something I always wanted to do."
Was his kick-return dropoff because the Cowboys' special-teamers declined, or because the string of injuries sapped his 4.49 speed?
"When it comes to that, it's kind of hard to tell," Jones said. "Things happen. You try to make the best of it . . . Other teams are good on special teams as well. I might not get that opportunity to have a 40-yard or a 50-yard break every time, but I try to do my best and get as much as I can."
To make room for Felix Jones, the Eagles released wideout Marvin McNutt, a 2012 sixth-round pick from Iowa who was envisioned as a red-zone target but lacked quickness. McNutt's most notable play as an Eagle came when he was trying to block for punter Mat McBriar but got shoved backward into McBriar, blocking his own team's punt, during a home loss to Cincinnati last Dec. 13.
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: A story about the five Eagles players who played for Chip Kelly at Oregon and understand the method to his loud, fast practices.