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Sunday, April 14, 2013
Updated: April 16, 5:26 PM ET
Cowboys still haunted by 2008 draft

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- We spend so much time dissecting the Dallas Cowboys' raggedy 2009 draft that we tend to ignore the 2008 draft.

We shouldn't.

That's the one that contributed more to the Cowboys being mired in the muck of mediocrity than any other in recent history.

Felix Jones
While 2008 draft picks Felix Jones (pictured), Mike Jenkins and Martellus Bennett each contributed to the Cowboys, none received a second contract.
It's the one that still haunts this franchise.

Think about it: The Cowboys were coming off a 13-3 season, their best since the glory days of the early 90s, and they were poised to put another dynamic run of success together after posting the best record in the NFC.

Tony Romo had established himself as the quarterback of the future, despite the Cabo San Lucas trip before the playoff game against the New York Giants, and now the Cowboys were going to add three of the draft's top 61 players.

The Cowboys took Arkansas running back Felix Jones, a niche runner, with the 22nd pick. They selected South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins with the 28th pick.

And they drafted talented, athletic Texas A&M tight end Martellus Bennett in the second round.

While each contributed to the Cowboys, none was deemed worthy of a second contract.

What a joke.

This from a franchise that hands out contract extensions to its own players like candy bars on Halloween.

Jones, Jenkins and Bennett were supposed to solidify the Cowboys' status as one of the NFC's top teams, but it didn't happen.

It would be unfair to call any of the three players busts, but none maximized their talent with the Cowboys.

The blame should be spread equally among the players, coaches and front office -- an indication of just how systemic the Cowboys' issues have been.

Take Jones, who the Cowboys picked over players like Chris Johnson, Matt Forte and Ray Rice.

Sigh.

The Cowboys loved his speed, acceleration and big-play capability. In his first two seasons, he displayed a lot of that. Jones averaged 48.1 yards on his first eight touchdowns with the Cowboys, spanning two seasons. But whenever he was given an opportunity for a larger role because of injury or circumstance, he failed to take it.

He seems happy being a niche player in the NFL, just like he was in college.

His legacy with the Cowboys will be his failure to pass the conditioning test at the start of training camp last season.

It's absurd for any skill position player to flunk a conditioning test. The Cincinnati Bengals worked him out last week, an indication of just how much his stock has dropped.

Then again, the Cowboys should have never drafted a career backup in the first round. Good organizations don't do that.

Mike Jenkins made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and seemed like he was en route to becoming a quality cornerback, but shoulder and hamstring injuries limited his effectiveness in 2010 and 2011.

When the Cowboys signed free agent Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal and moved up in the 2012 draft to select Morris Claiborne, widely considered the best defensive player in the draft, it removed all doubt about Jenkins' future in Dallas. Jenkins signed with the Oakland Raiders last week.

And then there's Bennett, who proved the Cowboys did a poor job of tapping into his immense potential.

You can blame John Garrett for that.

Bennett was never going to be the focal point of the offense -- not with Jason Witten on the roster -- but when you see the way Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez thrive in New England, you realize there's no good reason the same thing didn't happen to a lesser degree in Dallas.

It could have happened, but Garrett wasn't willing to put his ego in check and figure out how to tap into whatever makes Bennett tick.

Bennett didn't want to be a blocking tight end, but he would've been happy with a role that made him part of he passing game. That never happened, and Bennett let it affect his preparation and production. And when he did get opportunities, he didn't take advantage of them.

But he caught 55 balls for 626 yards and five touchdown with the New York Giants last season. He signed a four-year, $20 million deal this offseason with the Chicago Bears.

When draft picks don't work out, they must be replaced on the roster. The Cowboys used a third on DeMarco Murray and might use a mid-round pick on another runner in this upcoming 2013 draft.

If Jenkins had worked out, the Cowboys wouldn't have had to spend a first-round pick on Claiborne or $50 million on Carr. That's money and assets that could've been used fortifying other positions.

The Cowboys haven't won 10 games in consecutive seasons since the 90s. They haven't been to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season; only Detroit and Washington have had longer droughts.

These days your Cowboys are synonymous with mediocrity. The empty draft of 2008 is as big a reason as any.