Now that Jerry Jones has been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor, the question becomes who is the next Dallas Cowboy up for enshrinement?
The Cowboys have 16 members, including Jones, in the Hall of Fame. There are seven others with ties to the Cowboys in the Hall.
Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson was a semifinalist for the Class of 2017. An odd scenario with Johnson is that he’s not in the team’s storied Ring of Honor (unless a special announcement is coming this fall). The Ring of Honor has 21 members.
Who will be the franchise’s next Hall of Famer?
Here’s a look at the leading candidates:
Jimmy Johnson (Coach, Cowboys 1989-1993): He’s been a finalist for the Hall of Fame before and was a semifinalist last season. Winning consecutive Super Bowl championships is an impressive feat regardless of era.
Johnson turned an organization that had three consecutive losing seasons into a contender within three years. Johnson went 44-36 in the regular season and 7-1 in the postseason in his five years with the Cowboys.
Johnson then spent four seasons in Miami, reaching the postseason three times, but never making a serious run.
Coaching only nine seasons makes it tough for Johnson to get in. But building a team like he did with the Cowboys in the 1990s is special. It’s easy to see why voters would fall on either side of Johnson.
Terrell Owens (WR, Cowboys 2006-08): His numbers speak for themselves. He ranks second in all-time receiving yards with 15,934, third all-time in receiving touchdowns with 153 and is one of only 14 players in the 1,000-catch club. The biggest knock for Owens is the drama he created within the locker room and the fact he never won a Super Bowl.
But Owens helped the Philadelphia Eagles to only their second Super Bowl appearance in 2004, and had nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons (including three straight in his time with the Cowboys).
At some point, it would seem, the voters won’t be able to deny Owens football’s highest honor, simply based on his numbers and where he ranks among other all-time greats.
Darren Woodson (Safety, Cowboys 1992-2003): Woodson has earned the franchise’s highest honor by being in the Ring of Honor and has been a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame for three straight years.
Woodson has a case by being on the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl teams in the 1990s, being named All-Pro three times and becoming one of the first “cover” safeties in the league. He finished his career as the Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler with 1,350 and had 23 interceptions.
But Woodson faces an uphill battle because it’s difficult for safeties to get in. He also faces tough competition such as Steve Atwater, an All-Decade player with Denver in the 1990s, and Brian Dawkins, an All-Decade player with Philadelphia and Denver in the 2000s.
Drew Pearson (Wide receiver, Cowboys 1973-83): Pearson never made it to finalist status in the 25 years he was eligible as a modern-day candidate and will have to get in with a senior candidate nomination.
He certainly has a case to get it after a storied 11-year career that saw him earn All-Decade honors for the 1970s. During Pearson’s tenure, the Cowboys won a Super Bowl and made the postseason in 10 of 11 seasons. In fact, Pearson and former Cowboys safety Cliff Harris are the only position players from that all-decade team who aren’t in Canton.
Pearson numbers don’t overly impress in today’s era, but he was among his generation’s best in catches (489), receiving yards (7,822) and touchdowns (48). Pearson is also known for catching the league’s first “Hail Mary,” a 50-yard touchdown in the Cowboys’ 1975 playoff victory over the Vikings.
Pearson might have helped himself, too, with an impassioned speech at this year’s NFL Draft. Time will tell whether he gets in by the senior route.
Cliff Harris (Safety, Cowboys 1970-79): As stated, Harris and Pearson are the only position players from the 1970s all-decade team not in the Hall of Fame.
Harris won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys and was known for his hard hits in the secondary. He also finished his career with 29 interceptions. Additionally, Harris made the Pro Bowl six times and was All-Pro four times.
But, much like Woodson, safeties have a more difficult time getting to Canton. The closest Harris has come was being named a finalist in 2004.
Jason Witten (Tight end, Cowboys 2003-present): Witten has the strongest case for Canton of anybody on the team today. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have the possible makings of being an all-time great, but still have work to do.
Witten is already in the 1,000-catch club, one of 14 members, and has set several Cowboys records. His longevity and consistency have made him a special player in this league. He has caught at least 60 passes with at least 650 receiving yards in each of the past 13 seasons and been to 10 Pro Bowls.
But Witten could get some pushback from voters because his touchdown numbers are underwhelming compared to other elite tight ends in his generation. He only has 63 touchdowns compared to 100-plus for each Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.
Gil Brandt (Executive, Cowboys 1960-88): Brandt is a candidate to get to Canton as a contributor. And, boy, did he contribute plenty to the game.
Brandt is a pioneer in how he developed scouting and evaluation systems, being at the forefront of what has now become the scouting combine. He was among the first to look overseas and in different sports for football players (Bob Hayes was a track star and Cornell Green was a basketball player).
Brandt found guys such as Pearson, Harris and Everson Walls at small schools. He also orchestrated trades to acquire draft picks to use on players such as Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Tony Dorsett.
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame inducted Brandt in 2015, and he should be a serious contributor candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.