WITH A championship run looming, the Soul is losing one of its most important weapons in a development that defines the word bittersweet.
Wide receiver Tiger Jones will be signed by the Eagles and invited to attend training camp, the Daily News has learned. He will not play for the Soul for the rest of the season, because even a minor injury would derail any chance Jones has for the NFL.
"There's no question that taking a person of his [caliber] is going to create a vacuum," said Soul coach Doug Plank, who played eight seasons for the Chicago Bears. "But, at the same time, you have to look at the bigger picture. If, through this season, we were able to put one or two players into the National Football League, then it's a win for the AFL."
Eagles training camp starts Monday, July 23, but because some roster maneuvering needs to take place, Jones won't be able to sign until July 25. That week, the Soul will be preparing for a first-round playoff game.
Jones (5-11, 195 pounds) played for Bobby Petrino at Louisville and was the AFL receiver of the year in 2011 with Dallas. In his first season with the Soul, Jones leads the team in every receiving category and would have broken the team record for receptions. His 2,010 receiving yards top the AFL and his 47 touchdowns are third. Jones, 30, attended a rookie camp with the Redskins in 2004.
The Soul is 13-3 and setting AFL scoring records. It is a prohibitive favorite to at least get to the ArenaBowl championship game.
"When you put in this much work, spend 3 to 4 months with these guys and set goals for the team, it's hard not to see it through to the finish line," Jones said. "It's definitely bittersweet, but you can't pass up an opportunity like this. They don't come around like this every day, especially in the Arena league. A lot of NFL [personnel] guys look at us like we can't make the transition. For them to give me a shot says something."
Soul owner Ron Jaworski also has arranged for quarterback Dan Raudabaugh and wide receiver Donovan Morgan to work out in front of NFL scouts on Tuesday at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex.
Emery Sammons and Larry Brackins will see a boost in playing time, and the Soul is expected to bring in another receiver. Troy McBroom, who averaged almost 10 catches per game last season with Tulsa, worked out with the Soul on Thursday. Chris Jackson, the Soul's top receiver during the 2008 championship season, may also hear his phone ring. Jackson played for Plank in Georgia.
"We're going to miss Tiger, definitely," said Raudabaugh, the guy who figures to miss him most. "He's a great player, a great teammate. But we're going to be able to move on past it?…?We're not going to stop scoring points. It's not going to throw us off our game. We should be just fine."
Jones' making the Eagles is a longshot. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant have the top three receiver spots. Riley Cooper, Chad Hall and sixth-round pick Marvin McNutt also are on the roster, and speedster Damaris Johnson was intriguing in OTAs. Twelve wide receivers are on the Birds' roster.
"He has to make an early impression: beat someone during practice, show up on special teams, those sort of things," said Plank, who made the Bears as a 12th-round pick in 1975. "He has to get noticed. He can't just be one of the guys."
To read our philly.com chat with Jones from June 14, click here.