IRVING, Texas —The Dallas Cowboys wanted a running back in the first round of the draft, and the guy widely considered the second-best available fell right to them at No. 22.
But Rashard Mendenhall wasn’t who Jerry Jones wanted. Felix Jones was.
The Cowboys came away from the first day of the draft with Felix Jones, cornerback Michael Jenkins, tight end Martellus Bennett—and Adam “Pacman” Jones, as the ongoing talks for the suspended cornerback-kick returner finally wrapped up, pending only the expected league formalization on Sunday.
Dallas took Felix Jones at 22 and Jenkins at No. 25, moving up three spots by sending two late-round picks to Seattle. Bennett was selected in the second round, replacing Anthony Fasano as the second tight end after Jason Witten. Fasano was traded to Miami, along with linebacker Akin Ayodele, for a fourth-round pick.
The Cowboys needed another fourth-rounder because theirs is headed to Tennessee for Pacman. A trade for the suspended cornerback was in the works since Wednesday.
“Big capability jumps up for us with these guys,” coach Wade Phillips said.
Jerry Jones also made it clear that none of the additions should be considered backups—even if they aren’t always among the 22 starters. Felix Jones will be sharing time with Marion Barber, Jenkins and Pacman will be part of crucial depth at cornerback and Bennett will be used in a lot of two-tight end formations.
Taking Felix Jones made sense because the speedster complements bruiser Barber. He’ll have no ego problems being a backup because he played behind Darren McFadden at Arkansas. Plus, his average of 28.2 yards per kickoff return is among the best in college football history, filling another need for Dallas. He’s such a good fit that most mock drafts had him as the team’s pick.
Yet Jerry Jones was forced to defend his choice because Mendenhall was available. Asked which running back was listed higher on the team’s draft board, Jones said he didn’t want to get into that, then added, “You could flip a coin.”
He also described Mendenhall as someone who “could be a full-time, 25-carry back, if you wanted him to.” But the Cowboys didn’t want that. Rather than a straight starter-backup situation with Barber and Mendenhall, the team wanted the 1-2 punch of Barber and Felix Jones.
“Starter is not the word I would look for,” Jerry Jones said. “I would think that we’re casting our lot in a two-back offense more with Felix Jones than we would be with Mendenhall as we plan ahead. Nothing wrong with that, because we have Barber.”
The Cowboys also thought about taking a cornerback at No. 22, but decided to wait until their next pick, at No. 28. Then it looked like the player they wanted wouldn’t still be around, so they moved up to No. 25 to take Jenkins. Dallas gave up fifth- and seventh-round picks to scoot up.
“I told Adam if we drafted a corner it shouldn’t be interpreted in any way,” Jerry Jones said. “When you look at the possibilities we have with Jenkins and Adam, it’s pretty exciting.”
Phillips was practically giddy about his new personnel. He said Felix Jones reminds him of Thurman Thomas and will be used like Marshall Faulk. He said Bennett, a former basketball player, reminded him another hoopster, San Diego’s Antonio Gates.
Bennett, a Houston-area native who played at Texas A&M, was excited to be staying in the Lone Star State. And he’s looking forward to catching passes from Tony Romo.
“Any quarterback that can get Jessica Simpson, I’ve got to play with him!” Bennett said. “I’m excited just to be next to (Patrick) Crayton or Terrell Owens or practicing against DeMarcus Ware is going to be a great honor.”
Jenkins wasn’t expecting to be headed to the Cowboys.
“I really wasn’t getting any vibes from Dallas during this whole process,” he said. “That’s what surprised me the most, especially after they picked up Pacman Jones.”
Felix Jones is the first offensive player Dallas has taken in the first round since 1997.
“I am just ready to go in there and learn my playbook and get on the field,” he said. “Coach Jones was the first person to call me and I was so excited.”
Uh, Coach Jones?
“Well, Mr. Jones,” he said. “Sorry.”
The Cowboys still have a few picks to make Sunday: A third-rounder, Miami’s fourth-rounder and Miami’s sixth-rounder.