In addition to the serious business of OTAs (which Fish has covered here for the Dallas Cowboys this week), the NFL off-season is a time for fans, analysts, and media to engage in "thought exercises." Like: "Which free agent would help the team the most?” and "Could the team make this hypothetical trade work?” and the like.
Most of these ideas never come to fruition and some are even silly by nature, but they do provide an opportunity to understand your team better, think more critically about their actions, and analyze the reasoning behind their actions.
About two weeks ago, the twitter account @uSTADIUM posed an interesting question for football fans. ... One of these "thought experiments" that might seem silly, but can prove valuable if approached the right way.
“If you could bring back a franchise great from your team, who would it be?”
For fans of the Dallas Cowboys, this is a particularly interesting question. For a franchise with such a storied history as the Cowboys, winners of five Super Bowls, across two different eras, with 19 former players in the team’s Ring of Honor, 13 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with a recently retired former pass rusher who is sure to be honored at both levels in the next decade, and a quarterback who just left the team to join the CBS NFL broadcast team who will undoubtedly have his name in the Ring of Honor, there is no shortage of potential options.
If we narrow down the potential options to these 22 players, we have the following list of reasonable candidates.
Bob Hayes – Wide Receiver - 1965-1974
Bob Lilly – Defensive Tackle – 1961-1974
Charles Haley – Defensive End – 1992-1996
Chuck Howley – Linebacker – 1961-1973
Cliff Harris – Safety – 1970-1979
Darren Woodson – Safety – 1992-2004
Deion Sanders – Cornerback – 1995-1999
DeMarcus Ware – Outside Linebacker/Defensive End – 2005-2013
Don Meredith – Quarterback – 1960-1968
Don Perkins – Running Back – 1961-1968
Drew Pearson – Wide Receiver – 1973-1983
Emmitt Smith – Running Back – 1990-2002
Larry Allen – Offensive Line – 1994-2005
Lee Roy Jordan – Linebacker – 1963-1976
Mel Renfro – Defensive Back – 1964-1977
Michael Irvin – Wide Receiver – 1988-1999
Randy White – Defensive Tackle – 1975-1988
Rayfield Wright – Offensive Tackle – 1967-1979
Roger Staubach – Quarterback – 1969-1979
Tony Dorsett – Running Back – 1977-1987
Tony Romo – Quarterback – 2003-2016
Troy Aikman – Quarterback – 1989-2000
To appropriately answer this question in a way that most helps the current team, you have to really examine the state of the current roster, where its strengths and weaknesses lie and where the infusion of a legendary talent like those on this list would most benefit the team.
The current Cowboys roster is extremely strong on the offensive side of the ball. The most promising young quarterback in the league coming off of a Rookie of the Year performance in 2017, an elite running back going into his second year, the best offensive line in football (which while it is going through significant transition still has loads of quality talent for all five spots), and a group of pass-catchers that is diverse and explosive.
With the current offense considered, and their status as one of the top groups in the league, it’s safe to say that adding a legend on offense would likely not be the most impactful way of improving the team.
That alone eliminates 12 of our 22 potential candidates.
Then we get to the defense.
The present defensive line has lots of guys, plenty of NFL talent, but no single player who is capable of taking over a three-game playoff run the way so many Super Bowl champions have. The linebacking corps has the only All-Pro player on the defense in Sean Lee, and the biggest lottery ticket on the entire roster in Jaylon Smith. The secondary features three quality young cornerbacks and two average-or-better veterans ... although no true proven shutdown playmaking corner. At safety, Byron Jones provides a do-it-all presence on the back end, and Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier provide three potential options to pair with Jones.
The current status of the roster leans to adding one of these franchise legends to the defensive line or the secondary, either of which could create a more dynamic and dominant defense.
This narrows the list down from 10 potential candidates to eight: Lilly, Haley, Harris, Woodson, Sanders, Ware, Renfro and White.
Then the discussion of positional value is one that must influence this decision as well. In general, cornerbacks are considered more valuable than safeties, and defensive ends are considered more valuable than defensive tackles. This value consideration is driven by each position’s ability to impact the game overall. By eliminating the safeties and the defensive tackles from the conversation, we wind up with Charles Haley, Deion Sanders, DeMarcus Ware and Mel Renfro (Renfro’s career was split between corner and safety).
Two corners, and two pass rushers ... all four of whom were capable of taking over games ... and three of whom were key cogs in Cowboys Super Bowl-winning teams. Tough to get a better list than that, especially considering how the Cowboys team is currently constructed.
Attempting to narrow this list further is extremely difficult, but given the idea that a pass rush is more likely to cover for spotty secondary play than the opposite, my answer?