Jones's stock soared in the eyes of the Cowboys after he turned in the second-fastest 40 among running backs at the NFL scouting combine (4.38). Also, coach Bill Parcells (left, with Jones) was impressed with the 5'9", 217-pound Jones when he met him before the draft.
With his speed and elusiveness, Jones (3,018 career rushing yards and a 4.8-yard average) will give this offense some of the explosiveness it lacked in 2003. He doesn't have great hands, and he'll need to prove himself as an inside runner, but those aren't major concerns in Dallas. Fullback Richie Anderson will probably carry the load again on third down. And it's hard to argue with Parcells's instincts. He fared pretty well the last time he waited to draft the running back he needed: Curtis Martin, in the third round.
3. Will all those new faces in TAMPA BAY make a difference?
A little more than a year after winning Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs (7-9 in 2003) let go of a pair of franchise cornerstones—safety John Lynch and defensive tackle Warren Sapp—and signed 20 veteran free agents.
After winning a power struggle late last year with general manager Rich McKay (now G.M. of the Atlanta Falcons), coach Jon Gruden cleaned house, bringing in players he believes better fit his system. Bruce Allen, a senior front-office assistant when he and Gruden were in Oakland, was brought in as general manager, but Gruden is essentially calling the shots.
With four new projected starters on the line, including aging tackles Derrick Deese, 34, and Todd Steussie, 33, the Bucs could be inconsistent on offense until the blockers find their rhythm. There's—also the question of whether underachieving wideout Joey Galloway (left), acquired in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys for Keyshawn Johnson, can stretch the defense. Tampa Bay still has plenty of Pro Bowl talent—cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, wideout Keenan McCardell and defensive end Simeon Rice—but expect this overhauled team playing in the tough NFC South to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
4. Can the Freak stay on his feet in PHILADELPHIA?
As part of an eight-year, $66 million deal, the Eagles gave free-agent defensive end Jevon Kearse (right) a $16 million signing bonus. Kearse set the NFL rookie single-season sack record in '99, but he missed 14 games over the last two seasons because of foot and ankle injuries.
Philly paid for its inability to find an effective replacement for the departed Hugh Douglas after the 2002 season; the Eagles had only 38 sacks last year, down from the 56 they had in '02. Kearse had 47� sacks in 66 games with the Tennessee Titans. The Eagles need a pass rusher who can ease the burden on a secondary that lost corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor to free agency.
Kearse, 27, hasn't been the same since breaking a bone in his left foot, requiring surgery in '02 and early '03. And after getting 9� sacks in his first nine games last year, he missed two games with a sprained ankle and had no sacks in the other five. However, word out of Philly is that Kearse looked good in off-season workouts and minicamps.