By Zach Berman The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles made another attempt at a low-risk acquisition of a onetime high draft pick by signing former Dallas Cowboys running Felix Jones to a one-year contract on Tuesday, bringing Jones to a crowded Eagles backfield.
“I was just really trying to see what’s out there,” Jones said. “Once I visited the Eagles and I got to know the coaches and figure out the system and how things would be going, I kind of liked it. I felt like it fit me.”
Jones is a 26-year-old running back who has averaged 4.8 yards per carry during his five-year career. However, there usually is a reason that someone at that age and with that track record would be available on the free-agent market on May 14 to sign a one-year deal.
Jones, who has started 23 of his 64 NFL games, has played 16 games in a season just twice. So injuries are a concern. His production also decreased in 2012, when he averaged a 3.6 yards per carry — a sharp decline from the previous four years.
“Injuries do play a big factor, but I can’t dwell on that,” Jones said.
Even though Jones played 16 games last year, he was on the team’s injury report before 11 games with knee and ribs ailments. In his career, he has missed games with ankle and shoulder injuries and also has been questionable with hamstring and hip injuries.
Jones said Tuesday that he is healthy and running well. He wants to learn the playbook so he can “move even faster.”
“We’re constantly looking for ways to upgrade our roster,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said last week. “And if there is anyone that we think has an opportunity to come in and compete and add competition, we’ll look at them.”
Jones was at his best at Arkansas and with the Cowboys as part of a split backfield. LeSean McCoy is the unquestioned leader among the Eagles running backs. Bryce Brown is expected to be No. 2. Beyond Brown, the situation is unclear. Chris Polk is the third-string running back, and the team traded Dion Lewis and did not draft anyone. Undrafted rookies Miguel Maysonet and Matthew Tucker are also potential options. Eagles coach Kelly used multiple running backs at Oregon and often runs more than he passes.
Another area in which Jones could help the Eagles is kickoff returns. The Eagles ranked 28th in the NFL last season in kickoff returns with 21 yards per return. Jones has averaged 24 yards per return in his career. He averaged 21.5 yards per return last season. Jones caught kickoffs at Tuesday’s practice.
Jones’ best career game actually came at the Eagles’ expense. In the 2009 postseason, he rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown in a 34-14 victory. It remains a career high.
“Just playing my game,” Jones said about that performance. “Definitely was building off that. And things just didn’t go right, the injuries and things. But that’s how the game is.”
Jones was the No. 22 pick in the 2008 draft. When he visited last week, he learned the Eagles were interested in him in that year’s draft.
But the Eagles did not feel strongly enough about Jones to pursue him when free agency opened in March. By his own admission, Jones did not receive any interest at that point.
That’s why this kind of deal makes sense for both sides — he gets a fresh start to try to prove himself, and if he’s good enough, he’ll be a free agent again next spring.
Jones joins Kenny Phillips, Arrelious Benn, Patrick Chung, and Connor Barwin as offseason acquisitions who were selected in the top two rounds by their former teams.
“Things don’t happen the way you plan,” Jones said. “I’m just happy to be here, and I’m excited for the opportunity.”