A Cowboys' Top-50 Players Conspiracy?

Can you compose a notable list of The Top 50 Players In The NFL and not include even one Dallas Cowboy?

Or maybe, more to the point for the conspiracy theorist in you: Is your list made more notable if you DON'T include a Cowboy?

Colleague Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline.com has once again assembled his annual rankings of the top half-a-hundred. There is plenty of fodder for barroom brawling, in large part because it's really very difficult to have the "right'' answer.

For instance, Prisco's top five: 1. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts; Tom Brady, QB, Patriots; 3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers; 4. Randy Moss, WR, Raiders; 5. Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens.

Got any problems with that? Sure you do, as Patriots fans make a case for the QB that actually wins the Colts-Pats battles being superior. And as Vikings fans might argue that Moss could be downgraded for being more trouble than he's worth. And as non-Chargers and non-Ravens followers might think it a challenge to draw a thick line of demarcation between Tomlinson and the next group of great runners, or Lewis and the next group of great inside linebackers.

As it relates to the Cowboys, there are more debates to be staged as we trudge deeper into Prisco's list.

Baltimore safety Ed Reed is at No. 7. Eagles safety Brian Dawkins is No. 31. Roy Williams? He isn't on the list at all.

At tight end, Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City is No. 17. Antonio Gates of the Chargers is No. 27. Jeremy Shockey of the Giants is No. 33. Todd Heap of the Ravens is at No. 35. Jason Witten? He's isn't on the list at all.

Among offensive linemen, Walter Jones (Seahawks), Jonathan Ogden (Ravens) ,Willie Roaf (KC) and Orlando Pace (Rams), made the cut. Larry Allen? He isn't on the list at all.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean the Dallas cupboard is bare. Maybe the Cowboys employ a bunch of "Next-50'' guys. That is conceivable, right? And not a bad thing. What if the Next-50 list (players 51-through-100) includes Williams, Witten and Allen? And the Next-50-After-That list (101-through 150) includes La'Roi Glover, Julius Jones and whomever?

When we scan the last handful of guys on Pete's list – guys like Simeon Rice (Bucs), Jason Taylor (Dolphins), Al Wilson (Broncos), Brian Urlacher (Bears) and Takeo Spikes (Bills) – can we agree that it's possible that there might not be a football cleat's-length of difference in their talent versus the talent of assorted Cowboys?

Still, it does feel like a slap. If, say, Roy Williams finished 51st in Prisco's thinking, well, dang, couldn't the list have gone to 51?

Two possible Cowboys-related explanations for the structure of Pete Prisco's list, only one of which will relieve that slap-induced sting:

1) The Cowboys reek. At least, they stink relative to some other loaded teams on the list. Think about it: 32 teams, 50 slots. How many guys from a 6-10 team – or for that matter, a 10-6 team – is there room for? If a club places two names in such an exclusive club, they're probably doing something really right. (And the Ravens, with seven guys, had better be very good.)

2) It's more fun for list-makers to ban the Cowboys from the club. I don't lean toward this conspiracy theory in this case – I know Prisco to be a football guy, not a politician – but I'm happy to fling up against the wall the opinion of my friend Leon Simon. Cowboys fans who've spent any time in North Texas know Leon; he was once the best barber in town, then the best caller to talk shows in town, and now for the past two decades one of the most respected and entertaining (and admittedly, hometown-leaning) sports personalities in town.

Leon boldly offers – meaning no disrespect to Pete – that national media people have so much more to gain by dissing the Cowboys than they have by offering even-handed analysis.

"In the media, you get a bigger paycheck if you hate the Cowboys,'' says Leon, long a believer in "America's Team Backlash.'' "There are guys working on the national level who got there because on the first line of their resume is a claim that "I Hate Dallas.' You don't get any attention, you don't get interviewed as an ‘expert' on ESPN, you don't get to move up the food chain, if you like Dallas, or if you're unbiased one way or the other about Dallas.

"There's no money to be made by hating the Chargers or the Cardinals or the Texans,'' Leon says. "There's whole books written on hating the Cowboys.''

So yes, it's possible that the reason no Dallas Cowboys are among the list of top 50 players in the NFL is because keeping Cowboys off such lists is a cottage industry.

But as long as we're barroom brawling over the possibilities, that "Cowboys reek'' theory probably needs to be tossed into the discussion too, eh?

Mike Fisher is the editor of www.DallasBasketball.com and hosts a daily sports-talk show, "Fish For Lunch,'' noon-to-3 on 990 Texas Talk Radio (990am in North Texas, and www.990texastalkradio.com on the web.) Contact him at Fish@DallasBasketball.com.

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