Monday, September 17, 2012 Updated: September 18, 2:07 PM ET
No point in cutting Felix Jones now
By Jean-Jacques Taylor ESPNDallas.com
It's too easy to suggest the Dallas Cowboys should cut Felix Jones, the current symbol of the franchise's 15-year cycle of mediocrity. Or make a joke about the former first-round pick's endomorph body type. Or deliver a one-liner about Jones' inability to make a fire hydrant miss these days.
Felix Jones' $1.17 million salary is already guaranteed for the season, and he's potentially worth more to the Cowboys than any seventh-round pick they might persuade a team to give them.
That's what happens when you fail a conditioning test at the start of training camp after missing most of the offseason following shoulder surgery, show no burst in training camp, play just 12 snaps against the New York Giants in the opener and top it off with a woeful performance in a 27-7 loss to Seattle.
Jones fumbled the game's opening kickoff, allowing Seattle to establish an aggressive mindset. And on the game's final play, he fell face-first into the turf after tripping over his own feet during a 23-yard gain.
It seemed fitting.
In the first 119 minutes of this season, Jones produced one carry for one yard, two catches for four yards and averaged 21.3 yards on eight kickoff returns. He caught two passes for 36 yards in the final minute against the Seahawks.
"Every player is evaluated weekly and what their role is and what they've done in the recent past is certainly significant," said coach Jason Garrett, "and their body of work is significant as well. We'll continue to evaluate Felix and what his role is going forward."
Combine his sloppy game against Seattle with his tepid performance in training camp and the preseason, and Jones can only blame himself for his circumstance. Now, he's the punchline to any number of jokes.
But that doesn't mean the Cowboys should cut him. What's the point?
His $1.17 million salary is already guaranteed for the season, and he's potentially worth more to the Cowboys than the seventh-round pick they might persuade some team to give them for Jones.
The dumbest idea is that cutting Jones will send a message to the locker room that Garrett will fire anyone who doesn't perform -- even a former first-round pick. The release of Andre Gurode, Terence Newman, Bradie James, Leonard Davis, Keith Brooking, Marion Barber and Roy Williams, among others over the past 22 months, have already made that point.
The best coaches figure out how to get underachievers to maximize their potential, which should be Garrett's primary goal.
If Jones excelled in his role as a kickoff returner and change-of-pace runner, he would help a team that isn't nearly good enough to throw away talented players. Just because Jones has been a spare this season doesn't mean he can't or won't play better.
We've seen him zig-zagging through defenses and making big plays where none appeared to exist.
Seven of his 11 career touchdowns, including the playoffs, have come on plays of more than 40 yards, and he owns a career average of 5.1 on 459 carries. Until he was hurt last season, and DeMarco Murray put a stranglehold on the job, Jones was good enough to be the starter.
"Felix has been a guy who has made so many explosive plays in his career at different times," Garrett said. "He's averaged over 8.0 yards per carry and certainly made some big returns as well.
"You can make a lot of excuses and have a lot of explanations for that -- he missed the whole offseason -- but the reality is that what's most important is to get him going to be the Felix Jones he's capable of being."
Jones, only 25, is in the final year of his contract. It's hard to believe he can't play anymore.
Here's what the Cowboys should do: make him inactive for each of the next two games heading into the bye week.
Phillip Tanner can handle his backup running back duties and Tanner, Dwayne Harris or Morris Claiborne can return kicks.
That gives Jones three weeks to lose the 5-7 pounds one member of the front office believes he must shed to regain his burst and big-play ability.
For a professional athlete, five pounds can make a big difference in performance. The Cowboys can also use the time to work on his psyche, which has been described as fragile.
No doubt Jones' ego has taken a butt-kicking lately. Although Jones shared the running back job in high school, college and the pros, this is the first time he's been told he's not good enough to share the job.
That's hard on a dude's ego, especially when he was the 24th pick of the 2008 draft. Jones knows he hasn't met expectations whether they're from fans, Jerry Jones or himself.
The reality is the Cowboys are a better team if Jones plays well in the role he's been given. No one can deny that. After he returns to the lineup, Garrett should give Jones a few weeks to prove he's worthy of a roster spot.
If he can't, then so be it and send him packing. If he can, then the Cowboys are better off.
Making a decision right now is foolish and unnecessary. A few weeks from now, that won't be the case.