Remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers could get useful Cowboys castoffs?
Don’t expect running back Felix Jones to make Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert look like geniuses the way Flozell Adams did in 2010.
The Steelers traded outside linebacker Adrian Robinson to the Philadelphia Eagles for Jones on Friday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
This isn’t a bad trade for the Steelers. Robinson might not have made the team.
The problem is Jones might not make the team, either.
The Steelers acquired Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round draft pick in 2008, to shore up a running back unit that’s been ravaged by injuries.
Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers’ second-round draft pick in April, could miss six weeks with a ligament tear in his right foot, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling could miss the rest of the preseason with a medial collateral ligament sprain in his knee. Isaac Redman and Baron Batch also are banged up.
So while this trade makes perfect sense for the Steelers, it might not be much help beyond the preseason.
Adams, Jones’ former teammate, stabilized the Steelers’ offensive line after the Steelers signed him as a free agent before the 2010 season. He was one of the unsung heroes of the Steelers’ run to Super Bowl XLV.
Lightning won’t strike twice. Adams came to Pittsburgh with five Pro Bowls on his resume. Jones was a disappointment in Dallas and in danger of being cut in Philadelphia.
Jones was drafted at No. 22 in 2008, one spot ahead of Rashard Mendenhall. As frustrating as Mendenhall could be, Steelers fans should be grateful they had Mendenhall and not Jones.
Mendenhall ran for 1,108 yards in 2009, 1,273 in 2010 and 928 in 2011. Jones ran for 800 yards just once. That was in 2010. His yardage dropped to 575 in 2011 and 402 yards last year.
In two preseason games with the Eagles, the 26-year-old Jones has run for 45 yards on 12 carries.
Jones has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his career. He’s also caught 128 passes, including a career-high 48 in 2010. However, he’s never started more than eight games in a season. He’s been dubbed “Fragile Felix” because of his injury history, which includes problems with both knees and a shoulder last season.
The Steelers need to name a starting running back while Bell heals. The running-back-by-committee approach in 2012 yielded the NFL’s No. 26 rushing attack.
If you think about it, when does anything “by committee” really work out in sports?
Jonathan Dwyer would seem to have the inside track on the starting job in Bell’s absence just because he’s currently the Steelers’ healthiest running back. He ran for 68 yards on 14 carries in Monday’s loss to the Washington Redskins. Dwyer did fumble once, but he has a chip on his shoulder that could forge a decent season.
Dwyer lost about 25 pounds during the offseason, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and in a tweet on July 22 he fired back to the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette after Bouchette wrote that Dwyer isn’t guaranteed to make the roster.
It’s a safe bet now that he’ll make the roster.
Isaac Redman was listed as the co-starter with Bell on the Steelers’ depth chart heading into their second preseason game, but he’ll have to make up the ground he lost to Dwyer. Even if he doesn’t start, he’s valuable as a complementary, short-yardage back.
Stephens-Howling can return kickoffs in addition to his duties as a third-down back. He ran for 40 yards on seven carries in the Steelers’ preseason opener and showed an explosiveness that warrants a spot on the roster.
That’s four halfbacks on the team, including Bell. Will Johnson will make the team as a fullback. That makes the fifth halfback spot a competition between Jones and Batch.
Batch is a good blocker and contributes on special teams. He’s just not productive running the ball. Jones might have a slight advantage over Batch with the ball in his hand, but he doesn’t play special teams.
Comparing Batch and Jones could be a moot point because the Steelers might only keep five running backs, including Johnson.
They could keep Reggie Dunn as a sixth wide receiver if he shows any promise as a kick return specialist. They also might keep four tight ends, with Heath Miller taking up a roster spot until he’s healthy enough to play.
There might not be room for a sixth running back.
It was unclear if Jones would play in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field. It might behoove the Steelers to get him in uniform. He can help the team by getting on the field and keeping the running backs who are better than him on the sideline and out of harm’s way.
Then on Aug. 31, Jones and the Steelers will go their separate ways when the roster is cut down to 53 players.
And Jones’ work in Pittsburgh will be done.