Jones: 2008 first-rounders were productive

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys’ pre-draft press conference took a strange turn when the Jones family, unprompted, went off on a tangent trying to justify their first-round picks from five years ago.

The point was made through the prism of wanting to maximize the production of players on their rookie contracts. As far as the top two Cowboys executives are concerned, Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins weren’t disappointments at Valley Ranch despite the fact that no attempt was made to keep them once they hit free agency.

“You’re paying Jenkins whether Jenkins is here or not. You’re paying somebody else,” Jerry Jones said. “The facts are that in the system we are in today, when you draft a [Rashard] Mendenhall or you draft a Felix Jones, you are going to be paying a running back; you just don’t know whether you’re going to be paying the one you drafted or the one you’re going to go get.

“You said while you’ve got him during those four or five years are very important and we’d like to use him to be going to playoffs and competing for the Super Bowl. ... So 48 months from now you’re going to be sitting here deciding whether or not to pay him just like you would be a free agent out here. And so during those early years is when you want to get a lot of mileage relative to players.”

The Cowboys actually got a lot of mileage out of Jones and Jenkins during their second season, when they were significant contributors to a team that won a playoff game. By the standard set at Valley Ranch over the last 16 seasons, that apparently makes them tremendous successes.

Jenkins made the Pro Bowl that season, picking off five passes and performing like a legitimate lockdown corner. He had three picks in the rest of his Cowboys tenure, which ended with him serving as the fourth corner after Dallas gave Brandon Carr a five-year, $50 million deal and traded up to draft Morris Claiborne.

The playoff win over the Eagles was the high point of Jones’ career, as he carried 16 times for 148 yards and a touchdown in that victory. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry as a change-of-pace back that season but lost a significant amount of explosiveness as he bulked up in anticipation of a bigger role next season. After flunking the conditioning test of the beginning of training camp last year, Jones stumbled for 3.6 yards per carry as a backup while backs picked behind him (Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles) continued to put up big numbers.

“The point Jerry is making on Felix and Jenkins, they were productive guys for us for four years,” Stephen Jones said. “Felix was our one/two running back and we had him in that role the whole time and Jenkins was a starter for us. We just happened to get Claiborne in the draft and decided that was more of a future, a better future for us, than it was going up and re-upping Jenks for a lot of money.

“But (whether) it was Felix or Jenks, it wouldn’t have saved you any money once they come out of their rookie draft class. You’ve still got to pay them whether it’s yours or your own.”

The production of those 2008 first-round picks didn’t exactly merit a bidding war in the open market. Jenkins settled for a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Oakland Raiders. Jones worked out for the Cincinnati Bengals, but he’s still unsigned.