Felix Jones had a plan. He was going to play and excel for the Dallas Cowboys for a long time. That's the way he envisioned it. That's not the way it happened. He played, but he never excelled.
“This is something we do for a living,” Jones said after practice with his new team at the NovaCare Complex earlier this week. “I love what I do for a living. But it’s also a business. When things don’t work out the way you may want to see it, or however it goes, you just have to continue to keep going. I wanted to keep playing. My dream was to get out here and show the world what I’ve got.”
That was his dream coming out of the University of Arkansas, too. He was part of a dynamic collegiate backfield that featured Darren McFadden. Both running backs went in the first round -- McFadden to the Raiders with the fourth overall pick and Jones to the Cowboys with the 22nd selection of the first round.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was thrilled at the time, and he later raved about Felix Jones’ athleticism to a Dallas radio station: “His speed was the best that we had ever seen for a running back. Ever.”
Perhaps, but compared to other running backs taken in 2008 -- Ray Rice, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson and Rashard Mendenhall -- Jones never fulfilled his promise. There was constant hype about his athleticism during his time in Dallas, as though he was destined to break out and become a star at any moment. That never happened.
Jones has never rushed for more than three touchdowns in a single season. He’s never had a 1,000-yard rushing season either. And he’s rushed for 100 or more yards in a regular season game only four times.
His best year with Dallas was the 2010 campaign when he totaled a career-high 800 rushing yards. (Jones also ran for 148 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in a first-round playoff game against the Eagles in January of 2010.)
Last season -- after losing his starting job to DeMarco Murray the year before -- Jones had 111 carries for 402 yards (3.6 yards per carry). He also grabbed 25 passes for 262 yards and scored five total touchdowns.
That was it for Jones in Dallas. It’s hard to believe he’s only 26 and that his career deteriorated to the point where he accepted a one-year contract with the Eagles, who have a crowded backfield. The Birds have LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and a couple of rookie free agents on the roster. Simply making the team won’t be easy for Jones.
“There are great players at my position,” Jones conceded. “Great players all around. I’m just trying to fit in on the ball team. My role is to learn the plays, learn how to establish myself in the offense without messing up or causing us to waste time.”
On Monday, Jones spent time fielding punts. He wasn’t a punt returner with the Cowboys, but he did return a kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown against the Eagles in his second NFL game back in 2008.
Not surprisingly, Jones said he’d be happy to field punts. Or return kickoffs. Or do just about anything Kelly asks of him in order to make the team.
“Following Chip Kelly at Oregon, seeing how fast-paced his offense is and how it moves the ball, it’s definitely something that I could see myself being a part of,” Jones said.
While he was talking about his days in Dallas, Jones remarked that he wasn’t able to “excel there.” Now he’s simply looking for a job.
“I thank God that Philadelphia gave me another chance,” he said.
But how long will that chance last?