FRISCO, Texas – Been saying this and saying this and saying this now for 15 years since he first became eligible in 2008.
Darren Woodson belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Until I'm blue in the face. Gosh, here's hoping I don't have to turn a deeper shade of blue.
For "Woody" is so close, the Cowboys safety (1992-2003) among this year's final 15 candidates for the first time. The voting took place today in Phoenix, Ariz., with the announcement of the next five modern-day era players reaching the Hall of Fame to be announced Thursday during the 12th annual NFL Honors show, which is being televised live at 8 p.m. from Symphony Hall in Phoenix on NBC.
And the Cowboys' 1992 second-round draft choice out of Arizona State, hands down, is one of the best safeties, free or strong, to have ever played in the NFL. Even if it's a pretty select group, only 13 of those guys enshrined in Canton, Ohio. But here is what separates Woody from all the rest:
First, he was the heart and soul of those Dallas defenses that went to four consecutive NFC title games, won three and turned those into winning three of four Super Bowls. And those weren't just any ol' defenses, the Cowboys finishing those four seasons ranked first, ninth, first and 10th in NFL defense. And in eight of his first 10 seasons with the team, the defense ranked among the top 10, including second, third and fourth finishes too.
Next, guarantee you none of these safeties recently inducted, not Steve Atwater, Leroy Butler, John Lynch or Brian Dawkins, ever moved into the slot on the nickel defense to take on wide receivers in third down situations. Woody did, even if that meant matching up with Jerry Rice. Did it his entire career, giving the Cowboys' nickel scheme a dual-role player. One big and strong enough to deal with a potential run out of the slot, yet fast and agile enough to man up on a wide receiver.
And then there is this, and hopefully this was pointed out during Wednesday's presentation before the 49-member voting committee: Think about all the great Cowboys defensive players since their 1960 inception, six of those already in the Hall of Fame: Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Randy White, Deion Sanders, Charles Haley and Cliff Harris. And figure this: DeMarcus Ware is a finalist in his second year of PFHOF eligibility and a certain inductee if not this year but next year.
And it's almost a certainty that Cowboys' senior nominee finalist, linebacker Chuck Howley, will be finally selected Thursday night, one of those Cowboys' defensive Ring of Honor members along with the likes of Lee Roy Jordan and five of those six defensive Hall of Famers: Lilly, Renfro, White, Haley and Harris.
Take all of them, add in the likes of Harvey Martin, Cornell Green, Charlie Waters, George Andrie, Everson Walls, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Ken Norton Jr., Dat Nguyen, Roy Williams – could go on and on – Darren Woodson, four times a semifinalist, has more tackles than every single one of them. Woody is the all-time franchise leader with 1,350 total career tackles, more than 100 over second-place Jordan and third-place White. Woodson also is the career leader in solo tackles (787) and assisted (563).
And get this, over his 12-year career, Woody also played special teams, former Cowboys special teams coach, the late Joe Avezzano, couldn't bring himself to take him off punt and kickoff coverage. And guess what? He's the team's second all-time leader with 134 special teams tackles to only Bill Bates, who made a nice living playing special teams over his entire 15-year career.
Hopefully the voters Wednesday knew all that. Hopefully they aren't just anally looking at stats, like interceptions. Hopefully enough of them actually watched Woody play, although his last season was 20 years ago.
And if I was there, wish I had been, this would have been my best shots in his favor, blue face or not. Just do the right thing.
· Not So Fast: Sure, it's easy for so many to say the Cowboys just simply need to move on from Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, both aging out of their expanding base salaries. They are quick to point out that "Zeke" is scheduled to make a $10.9 million base in 2023. That Smith is scheduled to make a $13.6 million base in 2023. Cutting them saves a lot of money. Er, they think. What few, if any, tell you is this: There is dead money against the salary cap to say goodbye. Simply cutting Tyron costs you $8 million in dead money. Cutting Zeke costs you $11.86 million in dead money. Saw someone say the dead money for 2023 would only be $5.8 million. They forgot to tell you about the remaining $6 million in 2024 if he's a June 2 release. Not as easily to stomach. Plus, Tyron will play nearly all the 2023 season at 32, prime age for an offensive lineman. Zeke will turn 28 this year. Restructure is the answer.
· At Ease: Question being asked with the Cowboys naming Brian Shottenheimer the new offensive coordinator becomes what kind of offense will he bring to the job. He'll bring Mike McCarthy's offense. Don't you think if McCarthy is going back to calling plays, he'll be calling his own plays, not someone else's. And the two should be on the same page since much of McCarthy's offensive background is steeped in the offense of Brian's dad, Marty Shottenheimer, who gave McCarthy his first NFL job with Kansas City. And McCarthy certainly is not going to throw out everything the Cowboys have been doing with Dak Prescott. Maybe adding to it. Saw this fact after Kellen Moore was hired immediately by the Chargers. Since 2019, the Cowboys averaged the second-most points per game in the NFL (27.7) and were second in total offense at 391 yards a game. Also ranked in the top four in third down conversions (44 percent) over the last four seasons. Key question should be, can the Cowboys average more than the 14.5 points they have over the two playoff losses to San Francisco?
· Kicking Competition: Brace for another round of kicking competition in the offseason and training camp after Brett Maher's struggles with extra points in the final game of the regular season, missing one, then missing those four in the playoff victory over Tampa Bay and having another off target one blocked in the loss to the Niners. But the Cowboys might want to include Maher in the competition because they might be hard pressed to duplicate what Maher did during the regular season, converting 50 of 53 extra points, one of those blocked, and hitting on 29 of 32 field goals, two of those missed from 59 yards. Most of all, Maher hit on his other nine attempts from 50-plus yards, including his long of 60. Not bad production for a mere $911,387.
· Super Shorts: Thought the Pro Bowl 7-on-7 flag football games were quite entertaining, but now they have to improve the camera angles so we can tell who is playing defense since if you're not familiar with the player numbers, the names aren't on the front of the uniforms when all the shots are from behind the QB … That CeeDee Lamb is quite entertaining, with his two touchdown catches and an extra point reception … Trevon Diggs, too, his instincts on that pick amazing … DeMarcus Ware, the NFC's defensive coordinator, gets an A for cre-A-tivity, figuring out if the QB only has four seconds to throw the ball, then what about putting a guy like receiver/returner KaVontae Turpin on the line of scrimmage to blitz unblocked since he covers 40 yards in less than 4.4 seconds … Then this when pointing out Zeke only averaged 3.8 yards a carry, a career low: OK, but he did score 12 rushing TDs, and only four other running backs had more, with three of those with just one more.
And we'll step a little off Cowboysland for this, but thought it quite interesting when Sean Payton – the one-time Bill Parcells' offensive coach with the Cowboys from 2003-06 before spending the next 16 seasons with the Saints as head coach (2006-2021) – answered questions at his opening press conference as the next Denver Broncos head coach, he called the team's trade with the Saints for his rights "complex," which turned out to be Payton for a first and second and a third going back to New Orleans.
"I told Greg [Penner, Denver owner] and George [Paton, GM], here's the thing," Payton began. "They're making the trade, but it's like, 'If this trade impacts me, and if this trade is for this, then don't take it because I don't want to go if you lose that.' Does that make sense? And so that's where these guys were fantastic. If you're in that position, you're on the phone with (other candidates) because at any time it might not work."
And there is a shot that makes plenty of sense to me.